We've all heard well known quotes thrown around, but how often do we know the source of those quotes? Much of the time the source of well known quotes is literature -- popular essays, speeches, books, poems, and so on. There are some quotes we all know come from literature, such as "To be or not to be", which is from Shakespeare's 'Hamlet,' but what about the popular quotes that aren't so easily traced back to their literary sources? Below are 9 well known quotes that you probably didn't know were from literature.
1. "…and Therefore Never Send to Know for Whom the Bell Tolls; It Tolls for Thee."
This is one of the well known quotes I didn't know was from literature. It is from John Donne's "No Man Is an Island"; it's also the title of a Hemingway novel. This quote is referring to the fact that we're all human, and if anyone dies, that death is part of all of us because we all die at some point. It's amazing how a few words can mean so much.
2. "a Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds, Adored by Little Statesmen and Philosophers and Divines."
This quote is by the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson. It came from the essay titled "Self-Reliance," in which Emerson encourages people to avoid conformity and blind obedience to societal rules. This quote is a reminder to follow your own instincts rather than completely relying on your peers.
3. "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, —that is All Ye Know on Earth, and All Ye Need to Know."
These are the final lines of John Keats's poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn." I've heard this quote several times, all in different contexts. It's probably because this quote is the most difficult line to interpret; few scholars know what he is referring to in the context of the poem, so many people come up with their own interpretations.
4. "Elementary, My Dear Watson."
This quote is from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Crooked Man," featuring Sherlock Holmes, of course. Holmes said this to Watson when referring to the conclusions that were obvious to Holmes, but rather complicated to Watson. To be honest, I used to think this quote was from Schoolhouse Rock! When I was growing up I watched the multiplication Schoolhouse Rock, and the song went "Elementary, my dear, 2 times 2 is 4." It wasn't until I began reading more that I found out it was from Sherlock Holmes!
5. "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May..."
"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is a poem by Robert Herrick, where this quote is found. It encourages young people to take advantage of their youth while they still can. I love this quote! Gather up the rosebuds before the season is over!
6. "a Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing!"
This quote is from Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Criticism." It means that having a little knowledge can lead to dangerous thoughts and actions. While you think you're being careful, remember to have good judgment.
7. "Things Fall Apart; the Center Cannot Hold…"
The source of this quote is William Butler Yeats's poem called "The Second Coming." The poem uses Christian imagery that describes the Apocalypse to describe Europe post-World War I. It's a beautiful, well written poem that many scholars consider classic!
8. "Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost than Never to Have Loved at All."
This quote is a line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "In Memoriam." It is referring to the loss of a close friend. So many people refuse to let themselves fall in love, but according to this quote, the experience of loving someone and the pain of losing them is much better than never loving at all.
9. "Those Who Cannot Remember the past Are Condemned to Repeat It."
This quote is extremely popular, but few people know that it's a line from George Santayana's "The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense, Volume One." This is one of my favorites because it's absolutely true. When we forget our mistakes, we're much more likely to do them again. That's human nature.
It's fun learning new quotes, but it's even more fun learning where they came from! I hope you enjoyed learning the sources of some of the most well known quotes in literature! There are many more well known quotes that have literary sources; share your favorites!
Sources: Strouf, J. L. (1993). The literature teacher's book of lists. West Nyack, N.Y.: Center for Applied Research in Education.