Count Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck (29 August 1862 – 6 May 1949) was a Belgian poet, playwright, and essayist who wrote in French, most famous for his work L'Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird), and for other works exploring the meaning of life and death. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911.
- We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet: and, amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us.
- My Dog (1906)
- The future is a world limited by ourselves; in it we discover only what concerns us and, sometimes, by chance, what interests those whom we love the most.
- Joyzelle, Act i, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
- Men's weaknesses are often necessary to the purposes of life.
- Joyzelle, Act ii, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
- All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than the animals that know nothing. A day will come when science will turn upon its error and no longer hesitate to shorten our woes. A day will come when it will dare and act with certainty; when life, grown wiser, will depart silently at its hour, knowing that it has reached its term.
- Our Eternity, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
- I knew that if I was captured by the Germans I would be shot at once, since I have always been counted as an enemy of Germany because of my play, Le Bourgmestre de Stillemonde, which dealt with the conditions in Belgium during the German Occupation of 1918.
- As quoted in "Maeterlinck, Impoverished Exile, Arrives With Wife From France" in The New York Times (13 July 1940)
- An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it.
- As quoted in The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations (1960) by Tryon Edwards and C. N. Catrevas, p. 259
- Each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand mediocre minds appointed to guard the past.
- As quoted in Optimum Sports Nutrition (1993) by Michael Colgan, p. 144
Wisdom and Destiny (1898)
- As translated by Alfred Sutro
- Quand nous perdons un être aimé, ce qui nous fait pleurer les larmes qui ne soulagent point, c'est le souvenir des moments où nous ne l'avons pas assez aimé.
- When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough.
- The truth that seems discouraging does in reality only transform the courage of those strong enough to accept it; and, in any event, a truth that disheartens, because it is true, is still of far more value than the most stimulating of falsehoods.
- Unsourced variant: A truth that disheartens because it is true is of more value than the most stimulating of falsehoods.
The Buried Temple (1902)
- As translated by Alfred Sutro. Original title: Le temple enseveli. Full text at Project Gutenberg.
- It is not my purpose here to discuss the question of vegetarianism, or to meet the objections that may be urged against it; though it must be admitted that of these objections not one can withstand a loyal and scrupulous inquiry. I, for my part, can affirm that those whom I have known to submit themselves to this regimen have found its result to be improved or restored health, marked addition of strength, and the acquisition by the mind of a clearness, brightness, well-being, such as might follow the release from some secular, loathsome, detestable dungeon.
- Ch. III: "The Kingdom of Matter", § 5
- For in truth all our justice, morality, all our thoughts and feelings, derive from three or four primordial necessities, whereof the principal one is food. The least modification of one of these necessities would entail a marked change in our moral existence. Were the belief one day to become general that man could dispense with animal food, there would ensue not only a great economic revolution--for a bullock, to produce one pound of meat, consumes more than a hundred of provender--but a moral improvement as well, not less important and certainly more sincere and more lasting than might follow a second appearance on the earth of the Envoy of the Father, come to remedy the errors and omissions of his former pilgrimage. For we find that the man who abandons the regimen of meat abandons alcohol also; and to do this is to renounce most of the coarser and more degraded pleasures of life. And it is in the passionate craving for these pleasures, in their glamour, and the prejudice they create, that the most formidable obstacle is found to the harmonious development of the race.
- Ch. III: "The Kingdom of Matter", § 5
- This ideal is evidently still very imaginary, and may seem of but little importance; and infinite time must elapse, as in all other cases, before the certitude of those who are convinced that the race so far has erred in the choice of its aliment (assuming the truth of this statement to be borne out by experience) shall reach the confused masses, and bring them enlightenment and comfort. But may this not be the expedient Nature holds in reserve for the time when the struggle for life shall have become too hopelessly unbearable--the struggle for life that today means the fight for meat and for alcohol, double source of injustice and waste whence all the others are fed, double symbol of a happiness and necessity whereof neither is human?
- Ch. III: "The Kingdom of Matter", § 5
The Blue Bird (1908)
- L'Oiseau Bleu (1908)
- I know that you are looking for the Blue Bird, that is to say, the great secret of things and of happiness, so that Man may make our servitude still harder. … I do not hear the Animals... Where are they?... All this concerns them as much as us... We, the Trees, must not assume the responsibility alone for the grave measures that have become necessary... On the day when Man hears that we have done what we are about to do, there will be terrible reprisals... It is right, therefore, that our agreement should be unanimous, so that our silence may be the same...
- The Oak
- You know, my brothers, the nature of our business. The child you see before you, thanks to a talisman stolen from the powers of Earth, is able to take possession of the Blue Bird and thus to snatch from us the secret which we have kept since the origin of life... Now we know enough of Man to entertain no doubt as to the fate which he reserves for us once he is in possession of this secret. That is why it seems to me that any hesitation would be both foolish and criminal... It is a serious moment; the child must be done away with before it is too late...
- The Oak
- Don't be alarmed … They are a little annoyed because Spring is late... Leave it to me; I will settle it all.
- The Cat
- He's not quite blue yet, but that will come, you shall see! … Take him off quick to your little girl...
- Never mind... Don't cry... I will catch him again... [Stepping to the front of the stage and addressing the audience.] If any of you should find him, would you be so very kind as to give him back to us?... We need him for our happiness, later on...
- As translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos; also titled The Light Beyond (1916)
- It is childish to talk of happiness and unhappiness where infinity is in question. The idea which we entertain of happiness and unhappiness is something so special, so human, so fragile that it does not exceed our stature and falls to dust as soon as we go beyond its little sphere. It proceeds entirely from a few accidents of our nerves, which are made to appreciate very slight happenings, but which could as easily have felt everything the reverse way and taken pleasure in that which is now pain. We believe that we see nothing hanging over us but catastrophes, deaths, torments and disasters; we shiver at the mere thought of the great interplanetary spaces, with their cold and formidable and gloomy solitudes; and we imagine that the revolving worlds are as unhappy as ourselves because they freeze, or clash together, or are consumed in unutterable flames. We infer from this that the genius of the universe is an outrageous tyrant, seized with a monstrous madness, and that it delights only in the torture of itself and all that it contains. To millions of stars, each many thousand times larger than our sun, to nebulee whose nature and dimensions no figure, no word in our languages is able to express, we attribute our momentary sensibility, the little ephemeral and chance working of our nerves; and we are convinced that life there must be impossible or appalling, because we should feel too hot or too cold. It were much wiser to say to ourselves that it would need but a trifle, a few papilla more or less to our skin, the slightest modification of our eyes and ears, to turn the temperature, the silence and the darkness of space into a delicious spring-time, an unequalled music, a divine light. It were much more reasonable to persuade ourselves that the catastrophes which we think that we behold are life itself, the joy and one or other of those immense festivals of mind and matter in which death, thrusting aside at last our two enemies, time and space, will soon permit us to take part. Each world dissolving, extinguished, crumbling, burnt or colliding with another world and pulverized means the commencement of a magnificent experiment, the dawn of a marvelous hope and perhaps an unexpected happiness drawn direct from the inexhaustible unknown. What though they freeze or flame, collect or disperse, pursue or flee one another: mind and matter, no longer united by the same pitiful hazard that joined them in us, must rejoice at all that happens; for all is but birth and re-birth, a departure into an unknown filled with wonderful promises and maybe an anticipation of some unutterable event …
And, should they stand still one day, become fixed and remain motionless, it will not be that they have encountered calamity, nullity or death; but they will have entered into a thing so fair, so great, so happy and bathed in such certainties that they will for ever prefer it to all the prodigious chances of an infinity which nothing can impoverish.