Stanisław Jerzy Lec

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I wanted to tell the world just one word. Unable to do it I became a writer.

Stanisław Jerzy Lec (6 March 19097 May 1966) was a Polish poet and aphorist.


Do not expect too much of the end of the world.
  • Those who are ahead of their time often have to wait for it in uncomfortable quarters.
    • As quoted in Power for the World (2010) by Wolfgang Palz, Foreword, p. xxi

Unkempt Thoughts (1957)

All is in the hands of Man.
Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
Politics: a Trojan horse race.
Satirists, be careful. In the 1931 film by René Clair Vive la Liberte a song says, "Work is freedom." In 1940 the sign on the gates to Auschwitz said: "Arbeit macht frei."
Myśli nieuczesane (1957) as translated by Jacek Galazka (1962)
  • Wszystko jest w rękach człowieka. Dlatego należy je często myć.
    • All is in the hands of Man. Therefore you should wash them often.
  • Nawet w jego milczeniu były błędy językowe.
    • There were grammatical errors even in his silence.
    • Variant translation: Even in his silence were grammatical errors.
  • Pogrożę mu tylko palcem – rzekł, kładąc go na cynglu.
    • "I will just wag my finger at him", he said, putting it on the trigger.
  • Czy jeżeli ludożerca je widelcem i nożem to postęp?
    • Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?
    • This inspired the title for Cannibals with Forks : The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business (1998) by John Elkington
  • W walce idei giną ludzie. [1]
    • In a war of ideas it is people who get killed. [2]
  • You will always find some Eskimos ready to instruct the Congolese on how to cope with heat waves.
  • Hay smells different to lovers and horses.
  • Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
  • The window to the world can be covered by a newspaper.
  • Tłum krzyczy jednymi wielkimi ustami, ale je tysiącem małych.
    • The mob shouts with one big mouth and eats with a thousand little ones.
  • Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody.
  • Burząc pomniki, oszczędzajcie cokoły. Zawsze mogą się przydać.
    • When smashing monuments, save the pedestals. They always come in handy.
  • Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.
  • The moment of recognizing your own lack of talent is a flash of genius.
  • Morality is either a social contract or you have to pay cash.
  • Gdy z radości podskoczysz do góry, uważaj, by ci ktoś ziemi spod nóg nie usunął. [3]
    • When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet. [4]
  • Open Sesame — I want to get out.

More Unkempt Thoughts (1964)

The richer your imagination, the poorer you feel.
Myśli nieuczesane nowe (1964) as translated by Jacek Galazka (1969)
  • The Order of the Garter usually goes to people who already have full wardrobes.
  • It is the high priests that make demands — not the gods they serve.
  • Żaden płatek śniegu nie czuje się odpowiedzialny za lawinę.
    • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Quotes about Lec

What is chaos? It is the Order destroyed during Creation.
  • Every great writer has one single obsession, and Lec tells us: "I wanted to tell the world just one word. Unable to do it I became a writer." And in another aphorism one is reminded of Picasso as he characteristically moves towards his creation through a continual grappling with and destruction of chaotic forms: "What is chaos? It is the Order destroyed during Creation." It was also Picasso who memorably called art "a lie which tells the truth", and Lec comes pretty close to the maestro with this one: "A beautiful lie? Listen! That's creativity."
    Lec sums up the predicament of the one gifted with creative powers, the well-known neurotic, pathological condition of the artist, in such words: "The richer your imagination, the poorer you feel." But then Lec also assures him: "Every bush can burn if you fire it with your imagination." Yet all that anguish and loneliness may be worth it for: "To suffer heartaches and not be a poet? Whatever for?"
    • Azizul Hakeem, in Minor Prejudices : Essays on the Arts & Literature, Cultural Perspectives, and Personal Reflections (2008), p. 81
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