Quotes from All the King's Men

Robert Penn Warren ·  439 pages

Rating: (48.6K votes)


“The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, but he can't know whether he is killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it, would save him.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“[F]or when you get in love you are made all over again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what it has been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act of loving somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, has also created you, picked up the you-chunk of clay out of the mass. So there are two you's, the one you create by loving and the one the beloved creates by loving you. The farther those two you's are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouldn't be any difference between the two you's or any distance between them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be perfect focus, as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into perfect alignment.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“And what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“Her eyes were glittering like the eyes of a child when you give a nice surprise, and she laughed with a sudden throaty, tingling way. It is the way a woman laughs for happiness. They never laugh that way just when they are being polite or at a joke. A woman only laughs that way a few times in her life. A woman only laughs that way when something has touched her way down in the very quick of her being and the happiness just wells out as natural as breath and the first jonquils and mountain brooks. When a woman laughs that way it always does something to you. It does not matter what kind of a face she has got either. You hear that laugh and feel that you have grasped a clean and beautiful truth. You feel that way because that laugh is a revelation. It is a great impersonal sincerity. It is a spray of dewy blossom from the great central stalk of All Being, and the woman’s name and address hasn’t got a damn thing to do with it. Therefore, the laugh cannot be faked. If a woman could learn to fake it she would make Nell Gwyn and Pompadour look like a couple of Campfire Girls wearing bifocals and ground-gripper shoes with bands on their teeth. She could get all society by the ears. For all any man really wants is to hear a woman laugh like that.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“[A]nd soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



“...the air so still it aches like the place where the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how things once were and how they might have been yet if what happened had not happened.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“After a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new equilibrium is for eternity. . . But if anything is certain it is that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn't the game that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than nine innings. When the game stops it will be called on account of darkness. But it is a long day.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“There was nothing particularly wrong with them; they were just the ordinary garden variety of human garbage.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“The best luck always happens to people who don't need it.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



“So I pulled the sun screen down and squinted and put the throttle to the floor. And kept on moving west. For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the oldfield pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. IT is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“The child comes home and the parent puts the hooks in him. The old man, or the woman, as the case may be, hasn’t got anything to say to the child. All he wants is to have that child sit in a chair for a couple of hours and then go off to bed under the same roof. It’s not love. I am not saying that there is not such a thing as love. I am merely pointing to something which is different from love but which sometimes goes by the name of love. It may well be that without this thing which I am talking about there would not be any love. But this thing in itself is not love. It is just something in the blood. It is a kind of blood greed, and it is the fate of a man. It is the thing which man has which distinguishes him from the happy brute creation. When you got born your father and mother lost something out of themselves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back, and you are it. They know they can’t get it all back but they will get as big a chunk out of you as they can.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face that does not exist anymore, speaks a name – Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave – which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which by some inane doddering confusion of the universe is for the moment attached to a not happily met and boring stranger. But he humors the drooling doddering confusion of the universe and continues to address politely that dull stranger by the name which properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a campfire at night or in the middle of a crowded street said, “Gee, listen to this–’On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble; His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves–’” The Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you anymore.

And perhaps he never saw you. What he saw was simply part of the furniture of the wonderful opening world. Friendship was something he suddenly discovered and had to give away as a recognition of and payment for the breathlessly opening world which momently divulged itself like a moonflower. It didn’t matter a damn to whom he gave it, for the fact of giving was what mattered, and if you happened to be handy you were automatically endowed with all the appropriate attributes of a friend and forever after your reality is irrelevant. The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he hasn’t the slightest concern with calculating his interest or your virtue. He doesn’t give a damn, for the moment, about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two official criteria in adult friendships, and when the boring stranger appears, he puts out his hand and smiles (not really seeing your face) and speaks your name (which doesn’t really belong to your face), saying, “Well, Jack, damned glad you came, come on in, boy!”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“They say you are not you except in terms of relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, only has meaning in relation to other people.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



“Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys and forget the rest of the tax stuff...Willie, make 'em cry, make 'em laugh, make 'em mad, even mad at you. Stir them up and they'll love it and come back for more, but, for heaven's sakes, don't try to improve their minds.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“If you could not accept the past and its burden there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“If you want him to do it, you've got to change the picture of the world inside his head.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“...by the time we understand the pattern we are in, the definition we are making for ourselves, it's too late to break out of the box. We can only live in terms of the definition, like the prisoner in the cage in which he cannot lie or stand or sit, hung up in justice to be viewed by the populace. Yet the definition we have made of ourselves is ourselves. To break out of it, we must make a new self. But how can the self make a new self when the selfness which it is, is the only substance from which the new self can be made?”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“For whatever you live is life.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



“For the truth is a terrible thing. You dabble your foot in it and it is nothing. But you walk a little farther and you feel it pull you like an undertow or a whirlpool. First there is the slow pull so steady and gradual you scarcely notice it, then the acceleration, then the dizzy whirl and plunge into darkness. For there is a blackness of truth, too. They say it is a terrible thing to fall into the Grace of God. I am prepared to believe that.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“That summer we had been absolutely alone, together, even when people were around, the only inhabitants of the kind of floating island or magic carpet which being in love is.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“Dirt's a funny thing,' the Boss said. 'Come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except what's under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt. That right?”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“I got an image in my head that never got out. We see a great many things and can remember a great many things, but that is different. We get very few of the true images in our heads of the kind I am talking about, the kind that become more and more vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their reality but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning which we had only dimly surmised at first. Very probably the last veil will not be removed, for there are not enough years, but the brightness of the image increases and our conviction increases that the brightness is meaning, or the legend of meaning, and without the image our lives would be nothing except an old piece of film rolled on a spool and thrown into a desk drawer among the unanswered letters.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“At first it was, as I have said, rather bracing and tonic. For after the dream there is not reason why you should not go back and face the fact which you have fled from (even if the fact seems to be that you have, by digging up the truth about the past, handed over Anne Stanton to Willie Stark), for any place to which you may flee will not be like the place from which you have fled, and you might as well go back, after all, to the place where you belong, for nothing was your fault or anybody's fault, for things are always as they are. And you can go back in good spirits, for you will have learned two very great truths. First, that you cannot lose what you have never had. Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West after all.
If you believe that dream you dream when you go there.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



“How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“(The law) is like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks in the bed and a cold night. There ain’t ever enough blanket to cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and somebody is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone’s to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black Cadillac which sped through the night, said to me (to Me who was what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be) "There is always something."
And I said, "Maybe not on the Judge."
And he said, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“(...) the train goes fast and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the sober, metallic, pure, late-light, unriffled glint of the water between the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately whatever you feel is taken away from you, too.”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men


“a friend of your youth is the only friend you ever have..”
― Robert Penn Warren, quote from All the King's Men



About the author

Robert Penn Warren
Born place: in Guthrie, Kentucky, The United States
Born date April 24, 1905
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