Aphorisms by Eric Nelson

Olivia Dresher alerts me to yet another wonderful aphorist from the pages of her excellent FragLit journal. Eric Nelson is a poet and professor of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in creative writing. His publications include The Interpretation of Waking Life (University of Arkansas Press, 1991) and Terrestrials (Texas Review Press, 2004). I’m not sure whether to describe Nelson’s work as aphoristic poems or poetic aphorisms. He writes in verse form, in any case; i.e. short lines arranged on the page as a poem, with the first letter of each new line capitalized. But many of the poems are not more than a sentence in length. They sketch haiku-like scenes in the mind—of melting snowmen, a butterfly resting on a turd—but also mix an aphoristic bluntness with a more traditionally ‘poetic’ poignancy. The selection in FragLit is called “The Devil’s Almanac”; an allusion to the decidedly unpoetic Ambrose Bierce, perhaps? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call the sayings, of course. The important thing is to read them. You can do that below, and you can read more of Nelson’s aphorisms/poems here.

Only someone who still has it
Can say
Hope is a curse.

Happy memories
Are the saddest.

It’s not the going home
That’s hard.
It’s the wanting to.

It’s solitude if you like it.
Loneliness if you don’t.

Why oppose opposites?
A hammer pulls as well as drives.
Only what is buried grows.

Aphorisms by Sherry Dalton

A while back, Sherry Dalton pointed out some mis-attributions and typos in Geary’s Guide (which are duly noted on this site’s Corrections & Clarifications page) and sent along a copy of The Answerer, which she describes as “your personal adviser for the 21st century.” The Answerer is a kind of online oracle, a database of Dalton’s collection of some 26,000 quotations cross-referenced by author, subject, and keywords. It works sort of like the I Ching: Type in your question and The Answerer comes back with what it thinks is a relevant reply. Hopefully, Dalton has included some of her own aphorisms, wry and rueful reflections on some of the big questions to which we never seem to get the definitive answer…

The root of all evil is fear; its stem is abuse of power.

Nothing more fundamentally naive than cynicism.

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is interned.

They say it’s the cream that rises to the top. It’s the cream, alright; and the dead goldfish.

On Repetition

It doesn’t quite make sense. Why is repetition so interesting? Variety delights even as it disperses, but the thrill of the familiar persists. It’s like rehearsing a play; an actor gives depth and freshness to a role only by reciting the same lines over and over again, day after day after day. In the same way, practicing the piano is intensely boring—until you practice long enough. Repeating things makes them easy, and inclines them to give up their secrets. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe we’re just not paying attention. But it still doesn’t quite make sense. Why is repetition so interesting?

A version of this abbreviated essay appears in the April issue of Ode

Aphorisms by Michael Theune

Michael Theune describes himself as “a huge fan of aphorisms, probably bred into me by my upbringing in the church (I’m a preacher’s kid), which involved much exposure to proverbs and seductive gnomic utterances. I’ve been reading and thinking of them as an art form for more than fifteen years.” Theune is a self-confessed recovering E.M. Cioran addict. His own aphorisms are much more mischievous than Cioran’s (“so often humor is undervalued in discussions of the arts,” he says), though some rather immense and dark abysses can be glimpsed behind Theune’s puns and witticisms. Theune is also adept at glosses, clever spins on other people’s aphorisms. This is in the grand and ancient tradition of aphoristic sparring in which all lovers of the form delight. My favorite is his deflection of Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass: ” Do I contradict myself? Fine, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain platitudes.” Theune’s aphorisms are collectively called “Orthoparadoxy”. Here is a selection:

Flux is victorious but cannot accept the award.

Vision has become a version.

Second thoughts are tinder for the flames of Hell.

Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must scream, laugh, grunt, cry.

History consigned to the dustbin of information.

The rain that gives the roofers work sends the roofers home.

Nothing gives off more dust than stars.

All around the world, the mighty ocean musters all its strength to cry pssst! and shhh . . .

The hiss at the end of metaphysics—

I know there is something greater than me, but without me it wouldn’t matter quite so much.

Sometimes you have to spit on the world to make it shine.

So many are alive only for the sake of their salvation.

Attention founders between seeking and looking after.

Turkish Aphorisms

Each country’s national traits show through in many different ways: in the food, the customs, popular entertainments, even the sense of humor. A nation reveals its character through its aphorisms, too. The French are usually witty and sophisticated; the Americans homespun and slapstick; the Finnish deadly serious and dour; the Russians dark and and bitterly funny. The Turks, judging from this brief selection of Turkish aphoristic delights, are courtly, philosophical and somewhat bemused, noting life’s follies and foibles with a kind of aloof shrewdness.

My thanks to Cihan Ozcan for tracking down and translating these aphorisms from the Turkish.

No revolutionary is any good at restoration, but they destroy perfectly.

First we must know the truth. If we know the truth, we can know the false. But if the false is known first, it doesn’t take you to the truth.

The economy is like a river; it finds its course gradually.
—Turgut Ozal

Don’t be in the struggle of love but in the love of struggle.
—Peyami Safa

He who doesn’t live according to his thoughts starts to think according to his life.


The thing that makes the mind confused is passion.

A lie is like a sword stroke; the scar remains even though the wound heals.


No matter how much you know, how much you say is exactly how much the listener understands.

A beautiful face falls in love with the mirror.

Both the question and the answer are born from wisdom.

Be as quiet as a book when with an ignorant person.

Cenap Sahabettin

Only those who are kind perceive kindness, but everybody perceives meanness.

The person who selfishly seeks a friend actually seeks a servant.

The more in the wrong we are ourselves, the more we look for other people’s mistakes.

Don’t bridle a dog; it might think it’s a horse.

He who loves himself a lot is loved by others that much less.

When the heart starts to talk, the brain becomes deaf.

Life is like a river. It splashes over small obstacles but passes quietly by the big ones.