Marguerite Yourcenar

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Our civil laws will never be supple enough to fit the immense and changing variety of facts. Laws change more slowly than custom, and though dangerous when they fall behind the times are more dangerous still when they presume to anticipate custom.

Marguerite Cleenewerck de Crayencour (June 8 1903December 17 1987) was a Belgian-born French novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Marguerite Yourcenar. She was the first woman to be elected to the Académie française.

Sourced[edit]

  • Le malheur est que, parfois, des souhaits s'accomplissent, afin que se perpétue le supplice de l'espérance.
    • The unfortunate thing is that, because wishes sometimes come true, the agony of hoping is perpetuated.
    • Denier du rêve (1934), translated as A Coin in Nine Hands (1994) by Dori Katz, Ch. 3, p. 31 ISBN 0-226-96527-9
  • Je crois qu'il faut presque toujours un coup de folie pour bâtir un destin.
    • A touch of madness is, I think, almost always necessary for constructing a destiny.
    • Les yeux ouverts: entretiens avec Matthieu Galey [With Open Eyes: Conversations With Matthieu Galey] (1980)

Alexis (1929)[edit]

Alexis ou le traité du vain combat (1929)
Every silence is composed of nothing but unspoken words. Perhaps that is why I became a musician. Someone had to express this silence, make it render up all the sadness it contained, make it sing as it were.
It is not difficult to nourish admirable thoughts when the stars are present.
  • Tout silence n'est fait que de paroles qu'on n'a pas dites. C'est pour cela peut-être que je devins un musicien. Il fallait quelqu'un pour exprimer ce silence, lui faire rendre tout ce qu'il contenait de tristesse, pour ainsi dire le faire chanter. Il fallait qu'il ne se servît pas des mots, toujours trop précis pour n'être pas cruels, mais simplement de la musique.
    • Every silence is composed of nothing but unspoken words. Perhaps that is why I became a musician. Someone had to express this silence, make it render up all the sadness it contained, make it sing as it were. Someone had to use not words, which are always too precise not to be cruel, but simply music.
  • Avoir du mérite à s'abstenir d'une faute, c'est une façon d'être coupable.
    • To have merit to abstain from a fault, is a manner to be guilty.
  • Il n'est pas difficile de nourrir des pensées admirables lorsque les étoiles sont présentes.
    • It is not difficult to nourish admirable thoughts when the stars are present.
  • Nos défauts sont parfois les meilleurs adversaires que nous opposions à nos vices.
    • Our defects are sometimes the better adversaries when we oppose our vices.
  • Nous nous croyons purs tant que nous méprisons ce que nous ne désirons pas.
    • We believe ourselves pure as long as we despise what we do not desire.
  • On ne doit plus craindre les mots lorsqu'on a consenti aux choses.
    • One must not fear the words anymore when one consented to the things.
  • Tous nous serions transformés si nous avions le courage d'être ce que nous sommes.
    • All would have transformed us if we had the courage to be what we are.

Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)[edit]

The written word has taught me to listen to the human voice, much as the great unchanging statues have taught me to appreciate bodily motions.
Human beings betray their worst failings when they marvel to find that a world ruler is neither foolishly indolent, presumptuous, nor cruel.
Mémoires d'Hadrien, English translation by Grace Frick in collaboration with Marguerite Yourcenar (1984), ISBN 0-374-52926-4 The page numbers below are from the English translation.
Each of these castles of stone and each wooden hut has its structure of fixed ideas or flimsy, ill-based opinions superposed above it within which fools stay immured, but the wise find apertures for escape.
The world is big … May it please the One who perchance is to expand the human heart to life’s full measure.
  • La lettre écrite m'a enseigné à écouter la voix humaine, tout comme les grandes attitudes immobiles des statues m'ont appris à apprécier les gestes.
    • The written word has taught me to listen to the human voice, much as the great unchanging statues have taught me to appreciate bodily motions.
    • p. 21
  • Le véritable lieu de naissance est celui où l'on a porté pour la première fois un coup d'oeil intelligent sur soi-même: mes premières patries ont été des livres.
    • The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books.
    • p. 33
  • Des moments libres. Toute vie bien réglée a les siens, et qui ne sait pas les provoquer ne sait pas vivre.
    • Leisure moments: each life well regulated has some such intervals, and he who cannot make way for them does not know how to live.
    • p. 43
  • Je savais que le bien comme le mal est affaire de routine, que le temporaire se prolonge, que l'extérieur s'infiltre au dedans, et que le masque, à la longue, devient visage.
    • I knew that good like bad becomes a routine, that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and that the mask, given time, comes to be the face itself.
    • p. 97
  • Les êtres humains avouent leurs pires faiblesses quand ils s'étonnent qu'un maître du monde ne soit pas sottement indolent, présomptueux, ou cruel.
    • Human beings betray their worst failings when they marvel to find that a world ruler is neither foolishly indolent, presumptuous, nor cruel.
    • p. 103
  • Nos lois civiles ne seront jamais assez souples pour s'adapter à l'immense et fluide variété des faits. Elles changent moins vite que les moeurs; dangereuses quand elles retardent sur celles-ci, elles le sont davantage quand elles se mêlent de les précéder.
    • Our civil laws will never be supple enough to fit the immense and changing variety of facts. Laws change more slowly than custom, and though dangerous when they fall behind the times are more dangerous still when they presume to anticipate custom.
    • p. 113
  • Toute loi trop souvent transgressée est mauvaise: c'est au législateur à l'abroger ou à la changer.
    • Any law too often subject to infraction is bad; it is the duty of the legislator to repeal or change it.
    • p. 113
  • La passion comblée a son innocence, presque aussi fragile que toute autre.
    • Passion satisfied has its innocence, almost as fragile as any other.
    • p. 156
  • Tout bonheur est un chef-d'oeuvre: la moindre erreur le fausse, la moindre hésitation l'altère, la moindre lourdeur le dépare, la moindre sottise l'abêtit.
    • Every bliss achieved is a masterpiece: the slightest error turns it awry, and it alters with one touch of doubt; any heaviness detracts from its charm, the least stupidity renders it dull.
    • p. 164
  • La mémoire de la plupart des hommes est un cimetière abandonné, où gisent sans honneurs des morts qu'ils ont cessé de chérir.
    • The memory of most men is an abandoned cemetery where lie, unsung and unhonored, the dead whom they have ceased to cherish.
    • p. 209
  • Rien n'est plus lent que la véritable naissance d'un homme.
    • Nothing is slower than the true birth of a man.
    • p. 258
  • Il y a plus d'une sagesse, et toutes sont nécessaires au monde; il n'est pas mauvais qu'elles alternent.
    • There is more than one kind of wisdom, and all are essential in the world; it is not bad that they should alternate.
    • p. 270

The Abyss (1968)[edit]

L'Œuvre au Noir as translated by Grace Frick (1976)
  • Par-delà ce village, d'autres villages, par-delà cette abbaye, d'autres abbayes, par-delà cette forteresse, d'autres forteresses. Et dans chacun de ces châteaux d'idées, de ces masures d'opinions superposés aux masures de bois et aux châteaux de pierre, la vie emmure les fous et ouvre un pertuis aux sages.
    • Beyond this village, other villages; beyond this abbey, other abbeys; and after the fortress, more fortresses still. And each of these castles of stone and each wooden hut has its structure of fixed ideas or flimsy, ill-based opinions superposed above it within which fools stay immured, but the wise find apertures for escape.
      • The Highroad, p. 11
  • Qui serait assez insensé pour mourir sans avoir fait au moins le tour de sa prison?
    • Who would be so besotted as to die without having made at least the round of this, his prison?
      • The Highroad, p. 11
  • The world is big … May it please the One who perchance is to expand the human heart to life’s full measure.
      • The Highroad, p. 11
  • Peu de bipèdes depuis Adam ont mérité le nom d'homme.
    • Few bipeds, from Adam's time down, have been worthy of the name of man.
    • "A Conversation in Innsbruck", p. 114
  • il [Zénon] savait fort bien qu'il n'existe aucun accommodement durable entre ceux qui cherchent, pèsent, dissèquent, et s'honorent d'être capables de penser demain autrement qu'aujourd'hui, et ceux qui croient ou affirment croire, et obligent sous peine de mort leurs semblables à en faire autant.
    • The skirmishes with the theologians had had their charm, but he knew well that no lasting accord exists between those who seek, ponder, and dissect and pride themselves on being capable of thinking tomorrow other than they do today, and those who accept the Faith, or declare that they do, and oblige their fellow men to do the same, on pain of death.
    • The Indictment, p. 317
  • In alchemical treatises, the formula L'Oeuvre au Noir … designates what is said to be the most difficult phase of the alchemist's process, the separation and dissolution of substance. It is still not clear whether the term applied to daring experiments on matter itself, or whether it was understood to symbolize trials of the mind in discarding all forms of routine and prejudice. Doubtless it signified one or the other meaning alternately, or perhaps both at the same time.
    • Author's note, p. 367

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