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Nina Berberova

  • This is my main shortcoming: I was so determined not to lose time that I often did the wrong thing. Not losing time has been my permanent concern since I was three years old, when it dawned on me that time is the warp of life, its very fabric, something that you cannot buy, trade, steal, falsify, or obtain by begging.

  • It looks now as if everything has been profitable to me. And if the payment has sometimes been excessive, it was afer all the payment, for life, and there cannot be and is no excessive payment for life.

  • Neither the Acts nor the Apocalypse nor the church dynamited slavery. The New Testament says not one word about animals and the sorrow in their eyes. Nineteen centuries after the Sermon on the Mount people still laughed at hunchbacks, freaks, cripples, impotents, cuckolds, and old maids.

  • ... my choices were partly conditioned by the two great laws — of biology and sociology — for I do not conceive of myself outside of them. ... Inside every biological and social situation I am free to make decisions.

  • ... I think that an anthill is better than a nest ... that in the anthill among a hundred thousand or a million you are freer than in a nest, where all sit around and look at one another, waiting until scientists finally discover ways to make us mind readers. ... the psychology of the nest is loathsome to me, and I always sympathize with one who flees his nest, even if he flees into an anthill, where it may be crowded but one can find solitude — that most natural, most worthy state of man, that precious and intense state of being conscious of the world and of oneself.

  • How surprisingly alive false ideas are! They even have their own evolution. At first they are highfalutin' 'truths,' then humdrum 'laws,' and finally superstitions.

  • Paris is not a city, it is the image, the symbol of France, its today and yesterday, the reflection of its history, its geography and its hidden essence.

  • [On Paris:] It exists, constant, eternal, surrounding us who live in it, and it is in us. We love it or hate it, but we cannot escape it. It is a circle of associations in which man exists, being himself a circle of associations. Having entered it and come out of it we are not what we were before knowing it: it devoured us, we devoured it, and the problem is not did we or didn't we want it. We consumed each other. It courses in our blood.

  • I wanted to write; I sought all possible paths of personal liberation, but I could never sacrifice a living instant of life for the sake of a line to be written, my balance for the sake of a manuscript, a storm within me for the sake of a poem. I loved life itself too much for this.

  • ... the idea came to me that I was, am, and will be, but perhaps will not become. This did not scare me. There was for me in being an intensity I did not feel in becoming.

  • For many years I used the pronoun 'we.' Now, as in my youth, I go to sleep and wake up alone.

  • ... even when nothing is happening, nothing stands still. ... I am not a rock, but a river; people deceive themselves by seeing me as a rock. Or is it I who deceive them and pretend that I am a rock when I am a river?

  • My solitude begins in your arms.

  • ... I had learnt to seek intensity rather than happiness, not joys and prosperity but more of life, a concentrated sense of life, a strengthened feeling of existence, fullness and concentration of pulse, energy, growth, flowering, beyond the image of happiness or unhappiness.

  • [On New York:] ... a city rose before me. It was narrow and tall like a gothic temple, surrounded by water, and ... it suddenly appeared, as if with a slight push it detached itself out of the invisible into the visible.

  • Moscow, Rome, London, Paris stay in place. Leningrad and New York float, spreading all their sails, cutting space with their prows, and can disappear, if not in reality, then in the imagination of the poet creating a myth, a mythical tradition on the grounds of his secret experience.

  • Doesn't the theory of relativity concern literature too? In our world there is no longer any room for the privileged observer, as there is none for the observer of the universe — we are all within.

  • ... in her there appeared the charm one finds in independent women at whom 'society' has thrown up its hands and who have responded to 'society' with total indifference.

  • Pearls ... have a way of dying when separated from their owner.

    • Nina Berberova,
    • "The Black Pestilence," The Tattered Cloak ()
  • The past is good (as we all know), twenty, thirty years back everything was good, anyone can tell you that.

    • Nina Berberova,
    • "In Memory of Schliemann," The Tattered Cloak ()

Nina Berberova, Russian-born poet, writer, critic

(1901 - 1993)