Cesare Pavese

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In the mental disturbance and effort of writing, what sustains you is the certainty that on every page there is something left unsaid.

Cesare Pavese (9 September, 190827 August 1950) was an Italian novelist, poet, short-story writer, literary critic and translator.


The whole problem of life, then, is this: how to break out of one's own loneliness, how to communicate with others.
  • Many men on the point of an edifying death would be furious if they were suddenly restored to health.
    • The Faber Book of Aphorisms

The Beach (1941)

  • For some time my friend Doro and I had agreed that I would be his guest. I was very fond of Doro, and when he married and went to Genoa to live, I was half sick over it. When I wrote to refuse his invitation to the wedding, I got a dry and rather haughty note replying that if his money wasn't good for establishing himself in a city that pleased his wife, he didn't know what it was good for. Then, one fine day as I was passing through Genoa I stopped at his house and we made peace. I liked his wife very much, a tomboy type who graciously asked me to call her Clelia and left us alone as much as she should, and when she showed up again in the evening to go out with us, she had become a charming woman whose hand I would have kissed had I been anyone else but myself.
    • Incipit
  • We were at the age when a friend's conversation seems like oneself talking, when one shares a life in common the way I still think, bachelor though I am, some married couples are able to live.
    • Chapter 2, p. 8
  • What's got into your head? That I'm returning to my origins? The important things I have in my blood and nobody is going to take them away. I'm here to drink a bottle of my wine and sing a little–with anybody.
    • Chapter 2, p. 9
  • Don't mix wine and women, Doro.
    • Chapter 2, p. 13
  • See, you're like all the others. But don't you understand that we can't quarrel? We love each other. If I could hate him the way I hate myself, then of course I would abuse him. But neither of us deserves it. See?
    • Chapter 3, p. 20
  • If all this were true, how easy it would be to understand people.
    • Chapter 4, p. 24
  • What doesn't slumber under the shells of us all? One just needs courage to uncover it and be oneself. Or at least to discuss it. There isn't enough discussion in the world.
    • Chapter 4, p. 25
  • I've discovered nothing. but do you remember how much we talked when we were boys? We talked just for the fun of it. We knew very well it was only talk, but still we enjoyed it.
    • Chapter 4, p. 25
  • You've got to understand life, understand it when you're young.
    • Chapter 4, p. 27
  • All of them, all those idiots who force their brains and don't know when to stop.
    • Chapter 4, p. 26
  • I started explaining to her that nothing is vulgar in itself but that talking and thinking make it so.
    • Chapter 6, p. 36
  • But all years are stupid. It's only when they're over that they become interesting.
    • Chapter 9, p. 48

The House on the Hill (1949)

  • For a long time we had talked of the hill as we might have talked of the sea or the woods. I used to go back there in the evening from the city when it grew dusk, and for me it was not just another place but a point of view, a way of life. For instance, I saw no difference between those hills and these ancient ones where I played as a child and where I live now: the same broken, straggling country, cultivated and wild, the same roads, farmhouses, and ravines. I used to climb up there in the evening as if I too were fleeing the nightly shock of the air-raid alarms.
    • Incipit
  • I was happy enough; I knew that during the night the whole city might go up in flames and all its people be killed, but the ravines, houses, and footpaths would wake in the morning calm and unchanged.
    • Chapter 1, p. 63
  • The courage to stand alone as if others didn't exist and think only of what you're doing. Not to get scared if people ignore you. You have to wait for years, have to die. Then after you're dead, if you're lucky, you become somebody.
    • Chapter 8, p. 105
  • It's pointless to cry. One is born and dies alone...
    • Chapter 8, p. 105
  • That war in which I had been sheltering, convinced of having accepted it, of having made my own uncomfortable peace, grew more ferocious, bit deeper, reached into one's nerves and brain.
    • Chapter 13, p. 125
  • There is something indecent in words.
    • Chapter 13, p. 126
  • Not believing in anything is also a religion.
    • Chapter 15, p. 139
  • Even today I wonder why those Germans didn't wait for me at the villa and send someone to look for me in Turin. It is because of their failure that I am still free and up here. Why I should have been saved and not Gallo, or Tono, or Cate, I don't know. Perhaps because I'm supposed to suffer for others? Because I'm the most useless and don't deserve anything, not even punishment? Because I went into a church that time? The experience of danger creates more cowards every day. It makes one stupid. I have reached the point of being alive only by chance, when many better men than I are dead, I don't like it, it's not enough. At time, after having listened to the useless radio and looked through the windows at the empty vineyards, I think that living by accident is not living, and I wonder if have really escaped.
    • Chapter 16, p. 144
  • But I have seen the unknown dead, those little men of the Republic. It was they who woke me up. If a stranger, an enemy, becomes a thing like that when he dies, if one stops short and is afraid to walk over him, it means that even beaten our enemy is someone, that after having shed his blood, one must placate it, give this blood a voice, justify the man who shed it. Looking at certain dead is humiliating. One has the impression that the same fate that threw these bodies to the ground holds us nailed to the spot to see them, to fill our eyes with the sight. It's not fear, not our usual cowardice. One feels humiliated because one understands–touching it with one's eyes–that we might be in their place ourselves: there would be no difference, and if we live we owe it to this dirtied corpse. That is why every war is a civil war; every fallen man resembles one who remains and calls him to account.
    • Chapter 23, p. 176
  • I don't believe it can end. Now that I've seen what war is, what civil war is, I know that everybody, if one day it should end, ought to ask himself: "And what shall we make of the fallen? Why are they dead?" I wouldn't know what to say. Not now, at any rate. Nor does it seem to me that the others know. Perhaps only dead know, and only for them is the war really over.
    • Ending words

Among Women Only (1949)

  • But she didn't laugh. "When you have children," she said, staring at her glass, "you accept life. Do you accept life?"
    • Chapter 9, p. 212
  • She didn't seem dead. There was only a swelling of the lips, as if she were angry. The strange thing was her idea of renting a painter's studio, having an armchiar, no less, drawn up s she could die in front of the window that looked toward Superga. A cat had given her away–it was in the room with her, and the next day, miaowing and scratching the door, it had made them open.
    • Ending words

The Devil in the Hills (1949)

  • We were very young. I don't think I ever slept that year, but I had a friend who slept even less than I did. Some mornings you could see him strolling up and down in front of the station when the first trains were arriving and leaving.
    • Incipit
  • Are you or aren't you convinced that weakness is a man's condition? How can you raise yourself if you haven't fallen first?
    • Chapter 5, p. 306
  • There's nothing that tastes of death more than the summer sun, the powerful light, exuberant nature. You sniff the air and listen to the woods and know that the plants and animals don't give a damn about you. Everything lives and consumes itself. Nature is death...
    • Chapter 7, p. 311
  • I thought of how many places there are in the world that belong in this way to someone, who has it in his blood beyond anyone else's understanding.
    • Chapter 9, p. 319
  • Don't you know that what happens to you once always happens again? You always react in the same way to the same thing. It's no accident when you make a mess. Then you do it again. It's called destiny.
    • Chapter 11, p. 327
  • Why so much innuendo, draped like ivy to hide a cesspool, when everyone knew the cesspool was there?
    • Chapter 18, p. 354

The Moon and the Bonfire (1950)

  • There is a reason why I came back to this place—came back here instead of to Canelli, Barbaresco or Alba. It is almost certain that I was not born here; where I was born I don't know. There is not a house or a bit of ground or a handful of dust hereabouts of which I can say: "This was me before I was born."
    • Incipit
  • That you need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. Your own village means that you're not alone, that you know there's something of you in the people and the plants and the soil, that even when you are not there it waits to welcome you.
    • Chapter I, p. 9
  • It wasn't a country where a man could settle down and rest his head and say to the others, "Here I am for good or ill. For good or ill let me leave in peace." This was what was frightening.
    • Chapter III, p. 22
  • What use is this valley to a family that comes from across the sea and knows nothing about the moon and the bonfires? You must have grown up there and have in in your bones, like wine and polenta, and then you know it without needing to speak about it and everything you have carried about inside you for so many years without knowing awakens now at the rattle of the chain on a cart, at the swish of an ox' tail, at the taste of a bowl of minestra, at the sound of a voice heard in the square at night.
    • Chapter X, p. 56
  • Nuto, who had never really gone away, still wanted to understand the world and change it, and upset the cycle of the seasons. Or perhaps he didn't, and still believed only in the moon. But I, who didn't believe in the moon, knew that when all was said and done only the seasons matter and they are in your bones and they nurtured you when you were a boy.
    • Chapter X, p. 60
  • The whole plain was like a battlefield—or a farmyard. There was a reddish light and I jumped down, cramped and stiff with cold; a sliver of moon was piercing the low clouds and it looked like a gash from a knife and bathed the plain in a blood-red light. I stayed looking at it for a while. It terrified me.
    • Chapter XI, p. 67
  • Even then he had those piercing cat's eyes of his and when he had said something, finished up by saying: "If I'm wrong, put me right." And so I began to understand that you didn't speak for the sake of speaking, to say that you had done this or that, what you had eaten or drunk, but to work out an idea, to find out what makes the world go round.
    • Chapter XVII, p. 98
  • He told me that it isn't what you do but how you do it that shows whether you are clever or not.
    • Chapter XVII, p. 99
  • He told them it was only dogs that bark and go for strange dogs, and men set on a dog because it suits them to show that they are still masters, but if the dogs weren't dumb animals they would come to an agreements with each other and start barking at them.
    • Chapter XVIII, p. 107
  • At a certain point the two cigars fell at our feet in the snow and then we heard them whispering up there and moving about and then came a sigh louder than the others. When we looked up we could see nothing but the withered vine leaves and thousands of stars in the frosty sky. Nuto said "The blackguards" through his clenched teeth.
    • Chapter XXIII, p. 133
  • Maybe it's better like this, better that everything should go up in a blaze of dry grass and that people should begin again.
    • Chapter XXVI, p. 148
  • People who don't know any better will always be in the dark because the power lies in the hands of men who take good care that ordinary folk don't understand, in the hands, that is, of the government, of the clerical party, of the capitalists.
    • Chapter XXVI, p. 149
  • I realised that Nuto was quite right when he said that to live in a hovel or in a palace was one and the same thing, that blood is the same colour everywhere, and that everybody wants to be rich and in love and make their fortune.
    • Chapter XXIX, p. 167

This Business of Living (1935-1950)

War makes men barbarous because, to take part in it, one must harden oneself against all regret, all appreciation of delicacy and sensitive values. One must live as if those values did not exist, and when the war is over one has lost the resilience to return to those values.
  • Life without smoking is like the smoke without the roast.
    • 1935-12-20
  • What world lies beyond that stormy sea I do not know, but every ocean has a distant shore, and I shall reach it.
    • 1936-02-16
  • What is to come will emerge only after long suffering, long silence.
    • 1936-02-16
  • Consider this point carefully: nowadays, suicide is just a way of disappearing. It is carried out timidly, quietly, and falls flat. It is no longer an action, only a submission.
    • 1936-04-24
  • When a man mourns for someone who has played him false, it is not for love of her, but for his own humiliation at not having deserved her trust.
    • 1937-11-13
  • Remember, writing poetry is like making love: one will never know whether one's own pleasure is shared.
    • 1937-11-06
  • If it is true that one gets used to suffering, how is it that as the years go one always suffers more?
    No, they are not mad, those people who amuse themselves, enjoy life, travel, make love, fight—they are not mad. We should like to do the same ourselves.
    • 1937-11-21
  • The only joy in the world is to begin. It is good to be alive because living is beginning, always, every moment. When this sensation is lacking—as when one is in prison, or ill, or stupid, or when living has become a habit—one might as well be dead.
    • 1937-11-23
  • But the real, tremendous truth is this: suffering serves no purpose whatever.
    • 1937-11-26
  • A love thought: I love you so much that I could wish I had been born your brother, or had brought you into the world myself.
    • 1937-11-30
  • It had to happen to you, to concentrate your whole life on one point, and then discover that you can do anything except live at that point.
    • 1937-12-25
  • This much is certain: you can have anything in life except a wife to call you "her man." And till now all your life was based on that hope.
    • 1938-01-05
  • The art of living is the art of knowing how to believe lies. The fearful thing about it is that, not knowing what truth may be, we can still recognize lies.
    • 1938-01-05
  • La difficoltà di commettere suicidio sta in questo: è un atto di ambizione che si può commettere solo quando si sia superata ogni ambizione.
    • Here's the difficulty about suicide: it is an act of ambition that can be committed only when one has passed beyond ambition.
    • 1938-01-16
  • Why does a man who is truly in love insist that this relationship must continue and be "lifelong"? Because life is pain and the enjoyment of love is an anesthetic. Who would want to wake up halfway through an operation?
    • 1938-01-19
  • A consoling thought: what matters is not what we do, but the spirit in which we do it. Others suffer too; so much so that there is nothing in the world but suffering; the problem is simply to keep a clear conscience.
    • 1938-01-26
  • Because, to despise money, one must have plenty of it.
    • 1938-02-02
  • Those philosophers who believe in the absolute logic of truth have never had to discuss it on close terms with a woman.
    • 1937-02-19
  • To avenge a wrong done to you, is to rob yourself of the comfort of crying out against the injustice of it.
    • 1938-03-05
  • No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.
    • 1938-03-23
  • When one has made a mistake, one says. "Another time I shall know what to do," when one should say is: "I already know what I shall really do another time."
    • 1938-04-25
  • Since God could have created a freedom in which there could be no evil (i.e., a state when men were happy and free and certain not to sin), it follows that He wished evil to exist. But evil offends Him. A commonplace case of masochism.
    • 1938-05-13
  • The only reason why we are always thinking of our own ego is that we have to live with it more continuously than with anyone else's.
    • 1938-05-26
  • Death is repose, but the thought of death disturbs all repose.
    • 1938-06-07
  • All our "most sacred affections" are merely prosaic habit.
    • 1938-06-12
  • We care so little of other people than even Christianity urges us to do good for the love of God.
    • 1938-07-08
  • Men who have a tempestuous inner life and do not seek to give vent to it by talking or writing are simply men who have no tempestuous inner life.
    Give company to a lonely man and he will talk more than anyone.
    • 1938-09-19
  • All sins have their origin in a sense of inferiority, otherwise called ambition.
    • 1938-09-19
  • The man of action is not the headstrong fool who rushes into danger with no thought for himself, but the man who puts into practice the things he knows.
    • 1938-10-03
  • You cannot insult a man more atrociously than by refusing to believe he is suffering.
    • 1938-10-05
  • It is stupid to grieve for the loss of a girl friend: you might never have met her, so you can do without her.
    • 1938-10-13
  • It is not the actual enjoyment of pleasure that we desire. What we want is to test the futility of that pleasure, so as to be no longer obsessed by it.
    • 1938-10-16
  • Human imagination is immensely poorer than reality.
    • 1938-10-25
  • Misfortunes cannot suffice to make a fool into an intelligent man.
    • 1938-11-02
  • I spent the whole evening sitting before a mirror to keep myself company.
    • 1938-11-06
  • What we desire is not to possess a woman, but to be the only one to possess her.
    • 1938-11-13
  • When we read, we are not looking for new ideas, but to see our own thoughts given the seal of confirmation on the printed page. The words that strike us are those that awake an echo in a zone we have already made our own—the place where we live—and the vibration enables us to find fresh starting points within ourselves.
    • 1938-12-03
  • Idleness makes hours pass slowly and years swiftly. Activity makes the hours short and the years long.
    • 1938-12-10
  • The most banal thing, discovered in ourselves, becomes intensely interesting. It is no longer an abstract banality, but an amazing co-ordination between reality and our own individuality.
    • 1939-01-19
  • No matter how much a young man likes to think for himself, he is always trying to model himself on some abstract pattern largely derived from the example of the world around him. And a man, no matter how conservative, shows his own worth by his personal deviation from that pattern.
    • 1939-03-05
  • The whole problem of life, then, is this: how to break out of one's own loneliness, how to communicate with others.
    • 1939-05-15
  • War makes men barbarous because, to take part in it, one must harden oneself against all regret, all appreciation of delicacy and sensitive values. One must live as if those values did not exist, and when the war is over one has lost the resilience to return to those values.
    • 1939-09-09
  • We want Realism's wealth of experience and Symbolism's depth of feeling. All art is a problem of balance between two opposites.
    • 1939-12-14
  • Love is the cheapest of religions.
    • 1939-12-21
  • Things which cost nothing are those which cost the most. Why? Because they cost us the effort of understanding that they are free.
    • 1940-01-21
  • In general, the man who is readily disposed to sacrifice himself is one who does not know how else to give meaning to his life.
    The profession of enthusiasm is the most sickening of all insincerities.
    • 1940-02-09
  • If it were possible to have a life absolutely free from every feeling of sin, what a terrifying vacuum it would be!
    • 1940-03-17
  • Generations do not age. Every youth of any period, any civilization, has the same possibilities as always.
    • 1940-04-19
  • A dream is a creation of the intelligence, the creator being present but not knowing how it will end.
    • 1940-07-22
  • Anchorites used to ill-treat themselves in the way they did, so that the common people would not begrudge them the beatitude they would enjoy in heaven.
    • 1940-07-27
  • We do not remember days, we remember moments.
    • 1940-07-28
  • We must never say, even in fun, that we are disheartened, because someone might take us at our word.
    • 1940-08-05
  • Life is not a search for experience, but for ourselves. Having discovered our own fundamental level we realize that it conforms to our own destiny and we find peace.
    • 1940-08-08
  • A man succeeds in completing a work only when his qualities transcend that work.
    • 1940-08-14
  • The really clever thing, in affairs of this sort, is not to win a woman already desired by everyone, but to discover such a prize while she is still unknown.
    • 1940-10-07
  • There is an art in taking the whiplash of suffering full in the face, an art you must learn. Let each single attack exhaust itself; pain always makes single attacks, so that its bite may be more intense, more concentrated. And you, while its fangs are implanted and injecting their venom at one spot, do not forget to offer it another place where it can bite you, and so relieve the pain of the first.
    • 1940-10-10
  • Love has the faculty of making two lovers seem naked, not in each other's sight, but in their own.
    • 1940-10-12
  • Great lovers will always be unhappy, because, for them, love is of supreme importance. Consequently they demand of their beloved the same intensity of thought as they have for her, otherwise they feel betrayed.
    • 1940-10-14
  • We obtain things when we no longer want them.
    • 1940-10-15
  • A decision, an action, are infallible omens of what we shall do another time, not for any vague, mystic, astrological reason but because they result from an automatic reaction that will repeat itself.
    • 1941-04-04
  • No woman marries for money: they are all clever enough, before marrying a millionaire, to fall in love with him.
    • 1941-04-14
  • When a woman marries she belongs to another man; and when she belongs to another man there is nothing more you can say to her.
    • The winter of '41-'42
  • Things are revealed through the memories we have of them. Remembering a thing means seeing it—only then—for the first time.
    • 1942-01-28
  • In the mental disturbance and effort of writing, what sustains you is the certainty that on every page there is something left unsaid.
    • 1942-05-04
  • Love is desire for knowledge.
    • 1942-08-30
  • There comes a day when, for someone who has persecuted us, we feel only indifference, a weariness at his stupidity. Then we forgive him.
    • 1942-09-06
  • The problem is not the harshness of Fate, for anything we want strongly enough we get. The trouble is rather that when we have it we grow sick of it, and then we should never blame Fate, only our own desire.
    • 1943-02-03
  • When you dream, you are an author, but you do not know how it will end.
    • 1943-10-08
  • Narrating incredible things as though they were real—old system; narrating realities as though they were incredible—the new.
    • 1943-11-11
  • In fact a man in love or one consumed with hatred creates symbols for himself, as a superstitious man does, from a passion of conferring uniqueness on things or persons. A man who knows nothing of symbols is one of Dante's sluggards. This is why art mirrors itself in primitive rites or strong passions, seeking for symbols, revolving round the primitive taste for savagery, for what is irrational (blood and sex).
    • 1944-07-14
  • The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.
    • 1944-11-13
  • There is nothing fine about being a child: it is fine, when we are old, too look back to when we were children.
    • 1945-09-06
  • We do not free ourselves from something by avoiding it, but only by living though it.
    • 1945-11-22
  • How can you have confidence in a woman who will not risk entrusting her whole life to you, day and night?
    • 1945-11-28
  • Certainly, to have a woman who waits at home for you, who will sleep with you, gives a warm feeling like having something you must say; it makes you glow, keeps you company, helps you to live.
    • 1946-02-08
  • There is no finer revenge than that which others inflict on your enemy. Moreover, it has the advantage of leaving you the role of a generous man.
    • 1946-03-04
  • Writing is a fine thing, because it combines the two pleasures of talking to yourself and talking to a crowd.
    • 1946-05-04
  • Waiting is still an occupation. It is having nothing to wait for that is terrible.
    • 1946-09-15
  • There is only one pleasure—that of being alive. All the rest is misery.
    • 1946-09-16
  • We like to have work to do, so as to have the right to rest.
    • 1947-07-21
  • The problems that agitate one generation are exstinguished for the next, not because they have been solved but because the general lack of interest sweeps them away.
    • 1947-08-10
  • It is not that things happen to each of us according to his fate, but that he interprets what has happened, if he has power to do so, according to his sense of his own destiny.
    • 1948-01-25
  • The world, the future, is now within you as your past, as experience, skill in technique, and the rich, everlasting mystery is found to be childish you that, at the time, you made no effort to possess.
    • 1949-02-13
  • The act—the act—must not be a revenge. It must be a calm, weary renunciation, a closing of accounts, a private, rhythmic deed. The last remark.
    • 1950-05-10
  • Nothing can be added to the rest, to the past. We always begin afresh.
    One nail drives out another. But four nails make a cross.
    • 1950-08-16
  • Suicides are timid murderers. Masochism instead of Sadism.
    • 1950-08-17
  • The thing most feared in secret always happens.
    I write: oh Thou, have mercy. And then?
    All it takes is a little courage.
    The more the pain grows clear and definite, the more the instinct for life asserts itself and the thought of suicide recedes.
    It seemed easy when I thought of it. Weak women have done it. It takes humility, not pride.
    All this is sickening.
    Not words. An act. I won't write any more.
    • 1950-08-18, end. Nine days later he committed suicide, leaving this message: «I forgive everyone and to everyone I ask forgiveness. Well enough? Don't gossip too much».
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