20 Quotes about Life, Love, and Death

What follows are 20 of our favourite quotes about just about everything under the sun. By turns witty, poignant, and hilarious, they are always nothing short of eloquent. We hope you enjoy these quotes (or ‘quotations’, if you’re a purist!).

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. Henry James, The Ambassadors

Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today. Lawrence Krauss, ‘A Universe from Nothing’

I know that when I was a child, I thought the moon in the pond was real. How many things I thought real! I believed everything I was told–and I was happy! Because it’s a terrible thing if you don’t hold on to that which seems true to you today–to that which will seem true to you tomorrow, even if it is the opposite of that which seemed true to you yesterday. I would never wish you to think, as I have done, on this horrible thing which really drives one mad: that if you were beside another and looking into their eyes– as I one day looked into somebody’s eyes–you might as well be a beggar before a door never to be opened to you; for he who does enter there will never be you, but someone unknown to you with his own different and impenetrable world… Luigi Pirandello, Henry IV

Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur. (‘Change only the name, and this tale is told of you.’) Horace

A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it. But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can’t know. Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring. Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead. Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing

If we seriously contemplate life it appears an agony too great to be supported, but for the most part our minds gloss such things over & until the ice finally lets us through we skate about merrily enough. Most people, I’m convinced, don’t think about life at all. They grab what they think they want and the subsequent consequences keep them busy in an endless chain till they’re carried out feet first. Philip Larkin; letter to J. B. Sutton, 1949

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam. (‘The brevity of life denies us the hope of enduring long.’) Horace

One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters; that’s our one imperative need. […] But with what? With wine, poetry, or virtue as you choose. But get drunk. Charles Baudelaire

I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved. I am not sure that you are of the same kind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear. George Eliot; letter to Georgiana Burne-Jones, 1875

We fall in love. […] And, in time, we turn all our depression, all our sleepless nights and our pointless imaginings, into inspiration, and into the desire to inspire others. We devote our time and in some rare cases our lives to creating great and moving works of poetry, or paintings, or feats of architecture, or pieces of music that will be sung and played long after we’ve become powdered, chalky dust in a dark hole somewhere. And we do all this for one reason: in the hope that the person we so hopelessly love will hear a strain of our music, or read the words they caused us to write, or see the building that our love built. And then, then they will see us as we saw ourselves and as we saw them, and they will revise their opinion and love us back. But here’s the thing: not one single word we write, not one note of music we compose, will ever change a thing. That person we love will never love us back, and a few nice poems aren’t going to change that. And we know that deep down. But still we do it, because the alternative is to live out a life uncoloured by any greatness. And greatness, while a poor second to love, is the only second there is. Oliver Tearle, ‘O Tell Me the Truth about Love’

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more. Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist


Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone –
Man has created death. W. B. Yeats, ‘Death’

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Susan Ertz

Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. Aristophanes

God may reduce you on Judgment Day to tears of shame, reciting by heart the poems you would have written, had your life been good. W. H. Auden, About the House

I do not think so. Since he went into France I have been in continual practice. I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart: but it is no matter. William Shakespeare, Hamlet

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow

What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V. Virginia Woolf; her suicide note to her husband, March 1941

47 thoughts on “20 Quotes about Life, Love, and Death”

  1. Great quotes – thanks for that.

    That Baudelaire quote is a memorable one for me: in Eugene O’Neill’s play “Long Day’s Journey into Night” – a great personal favourite of mine – the character Edmund recites it in the final act.

    On the Christopher Hitchens quote, when he says, at the end “…but I want nothing more”, I would like to respond (even though he is no longer around to hear me): “That’s fine, Christopher, but you mustn’t insist that those who do want more are somehow in the wrong. We must allow for different temperaments.”

    And in response to Richard Dawkins: the probability that anyone should exist exactly with my DNA is, indeed, minuscule. But is this remarkable? Let’s apply some Byesian logic here: given that I do exist (and one must surely give that!), then the probability of someone existing with my DNA is, precisely, 1. Nothing remarkable about that.

    Virginia Woolf’s suicide note is almost unbearably poignant and sad.

    And finally, to Oliver Tearle: greatness may indeed be a poor second to love, but even those of us lucky enough to have love nonetheless pine for greatness!

  2. These are so beautiful … but I am left with anger (unlike your other commenters) at Virginia Woolf.

    She had it all but was too self-obsessed to see that … and her words to her husband must have felt like a slap in the face to him. She tells him how kind and good he is but then goes on her heedless, cruel little way into death.

    Frankly it is often far more heroic to Iive for others than to die for oneself …

    As you can tell I am not forgiving of the selfish.

    • Perhaps, however, you should be more forgiving of the depressed. I take it from what you’ve written that you share with me the good fortune of never having been depressed. If depression is even half of what I’ve been led to believe (both from friends who have struggled with it, the first-person accounts of strangers, and literary descriptions such as the ones in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest), anger and moral judgment are really inappropriate responses here.

      • I’m sure you are right, dyssebeia and it is unusual of me to judge. Perhaps you too are judging me however.

        I have suffered from depression, very serious depressions.

        I too have wanted to do away with myself and only the thought of what that would do to the people who love me gave me the courage to go on and endure.

        So, far from learning about depression from others, I have walked in that person’s shoes.

          • Thanks both for your comments. The Woolf note is fascinating for the very reasons outlined here – one cannot help feel horrified yet sympathetic about what happened, for both the husband and wife involved. I think the fact that the last words she wrote were about how happy she had been with Leonard – yet they were written while she was in the grip of a depression from which she could not envision ever escaping – is what lends her words such poignancy.

            • Just to chip in here, her “madness” was a recurring condition and she was well aware of the effect it had on her and had lost the strength to go through it again. She was also in the middle of a world war and we cannot know the effect that would have on a person of her temperament, particularly married to a Jewish person who would be the first target if Germany won the war. I don’t feel that anger is an appropriate response to Woolf’s death or her letter. By being judgemental we denigrate her condition.

  3. I happen to be drawn to dead writers and poets. Their words have such an impact in modern society. I’m always amazed at how the these thoughts penetrate as if their spirits were still here among us, nodding and nudging us on. Thanks for this lovely presentation.

  4. The quote of Oscar Wilde, De Profundis stirred up positive & lovely emotions. It was beautiful!

    On your Lawrence Krauss, ‘A Universe from Nothing’ quote, I took a little offence. Not from you of course. Everyone has the right to their own beliefs & opinions. I believe that statement sincerely.

    Not a religious fanatic, but am a Christian.
    In Genesis 1:1 -1:5, In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”. & there was light. God called the light “day” and the darkness He called, “night”. And there was evening & night
    1:8 God called the expanse “sky”, and there was evening, and there was morning-The second day.

    Figuratively not literally, If a person reads Genesis 1:1-5,1:8, and there’s other references to stars throughout the Bible. One tends to see the similarity between Lawrence Krauss’s belief and the Christian view of stars even though its not said. It’s inferred. I’m not a professor of physics. Just a girl who has her own point of view. :) Thank you for letting my voice be heard.

  5. You included so many of my favorite quotes. The Krauss one is part of my desktop background. I hadn’t come across the Charles Baudelaire quote before. It made me giggle but it is oh so very true.

  6. I do find Richard Dawkins rather non-sensical. One can argue that creativity is genetic, that poets are born and not formed, perhaps, but surely the experiences and responses to those experiences (responses that are partially genetic, I concede), contribute towards the creation of great poetry. It is a failing of scientific though the assume everything is DNA and pre-supposed. The rest are amazing and I agree Woolf’s has a sad, humbling and poignant message.

  7. Hey interestingliterature, it interesting the interesting way you write the comments. So interesting that my eyes are now suffering from some interesting cataracts. Got to love the one about God, funny quote. Interesting quote, for some interesting people. Stay interestingly frosty.

  8. Very interesting quotes. I have enjoyed reading them so thank you for sharing! The George Eliot quote reminds me of a line from Middlemarch that has always fascinated me; ‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’

    • That’s a great quotation, and rightly famous in the world of nineteenth-century fiction. I think it’s so celebrated partly because people have puzzled over precisely what George Eliot meant by it. We’ll have to write a full post on Eliot soon :)


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