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30+ quotes from Light Years by James Salter

Quotes from Light Years

James Salter ·  308 pages

Rating: (3.9K votes)


“Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers.
And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“You must go further than I did," Nedra said. "You know that."
"Further?"
"With your life. You must become free."
She did not explain it; she could not. It was not a matter of living alone, though in her case this had been necessary. The freedom she meant was self-conquest. It was not a natural state. It was meant only for those who would risk everything for it, who were aware that without it life is only appetites until the teeth are gone.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“But knowledge does not protect one. Life is contemptuous of knowledge; it forces it to sit in the anterooms, to wait outside. Passion, energy, lies: these are what life admires.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“There is no complete life. There are only fragments. We are born to have nothing, to have it pour through our hands.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“...alone in this city, alone on this sea. The days were strewn about him, he was a drunkard of days. He had achieved nothing. He had his life--it was not worth much--not like a life that, though ended, had truly been something. If I had had courage,he thought, if I had had faith. We preserve ourselves as if that were important, and always at the expense of others. We hoard ourselves. We succeed if they fail, we are wise if they are foolish, and we go onward, clutching, until there is no one--we are left with no companion save God. In whom we do not believe. Who we know does not exist.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Of them all, it was the true love. Of them all, it was the best. That other sumptuous love which made one drunk, which one longed for, envied, believed in, that was not life. It was what life was seeking; it was a suspension of life. But to be close to a child, for whom one spent everything, whose life was protected and nourished by one's own, to have that child beside one, at peace, was the real, the deepest, the only joy.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Do you know what it is to be really intimate, to feel safe with someone who will never betray you, will never force you to act unlike yourself? That was what we had.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“It is always an accident that saves us. It is someone we have never seen.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“ONE OF THE LAST GREAT REALIZATIONS is that life will not be what you dreamed.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Children are our crop, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed. Still, they are the only source from which may be drawn a life more successful, more knowing than our own. Somehow they will do one thing, take one step further, they will see the summit. We believe in it, the radiance that streams from the future, from days we will not see. Children must live, must triumph. Children must die; that is an idea we cannot accept.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“We were moderate, we will never know what it is to spill out our lives...”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“You’re so American. You believe everything is possible, everything will come. I know differently.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Jivan: You think when you have love that love is easy to find, that everyone has it. It's not true. It's very hard to find.
Nedra: I haven't been looking for it.
Jivan: It's like a tree...It takes a long time to grow. It has roots very deep, and these roots stretch out a long way, farther than you know. You can't cut it, just like that.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“But knowledge does not protect one. Life is contemptuous of knowledge; it forces it to sit in the anterooms, to wait outside. Passion, energy, lies: these are what life admires. Still, anything can be endured if all humanity is watching. The martyrs prove it. We live in the attention of others. We turn to it as flowers to the sun.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“He was reaching that age, he was at the edge of it, when the world becomes suddenly more beautiful, when it reveals itself in a special way, in every detail, roof and wall, in the leaves of trees fluttering faintly before the rain. The world was opening itself, as if to allow, now that life was shortening, one long, passionate look, and all that had been withheld would finally be given.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Love must wait; it must break one’s bones.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“WE DASH THE BLACK RIVER, ITS flats smooth as stone. Not a ship, not a dinghy, not one cry of white. The water lies broken, cracked from the wind. This great estuary is wide, endless. The river is brackish, blue with the cold. It passes beneath us blurring. The sea birds hang above it, they wheel, disappear. We flash the wide river, a dream of the past. The deeps fall behind, the bottom is paling the surface, we rush by the shallows, boats beached for winter, desolate piers. And on wings like the gulls, soar up, turn, look back.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“THERE ARE THINGS I LOVE ABOUT marriage. I love the familiarity of it,” Nedra said. “It’s like a tattoo. You wanted it at the time, you have it, it’s implanted in your skin, you can’t get rid of it. You’re hardly even aware of it any more. I suppose I’m very conventional,” she decided.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“He was the friend of my life. You know, you only have one friend like that; there can't be two.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“For those we are born to speak to we need prepare nothing, the lines are ready, everything is there.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“DEAD FLIES ON THE SILLS OF sunny windows, weeds along the pathway, the kitchen empty. The house was melancholy, deceiving; it was like a cathedral where, amid the serenity, something is false, the saints are made of florist’s wax, the organ has been gutted.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“He had his life—it was not worth much—not like a life that, though ended, had truly been something. If I had had courage, he thought, if I had had faith. We preserve ourselves as if that were important, and always at the expense of others. We hoard ourselves. We succeed if they fail, we are wise if they are foolish, and we go onward, clutching, until there is no one—we are left with no companion save God. In whom we do not believe. Who we know does not exist.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Leven is het weer. Leven is maaltijden. Lunch op een blauw-geruit kleed waar zout op is gemorst. De geur van tabak. Brie, gele appels, messen met houten handvaten.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Either that,” he said, “or it comes true later. I’ll tell you another story. There was a father who gave his son a shotgun. It was very small. It was a luparetta. So the son went to school, and he met another boy with a wrist watch. It was a beautiful wrist watch, he fell in love with it. He wanted it, so he traded; he gave his luparetta to the boy and he got the watch.” “Is this a true story?” “Who knows? When the son came home that afternoon, his father said, ‘Where’s your luparetta—Dov’è la luparetta?’ And the son said, ‘I traded it.’ ‘You traded it!’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I traded it for this watch.’ ‘Fantástico,’ the father said, ‘meraviglioso, you traded it for a watch. Now when someone calls your sister a whore, what are you going to do, tell them the time?’ ”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Eve was tall. Her face had cheekbones. Her shoulders slumped when she walked. The shelves in her living room were bent beneath the books. She worked for a publisher; oh, you’ve heard of him, she said.

Her life was one in which everything was left undone—letters unanswered, bills on the floor, the butter sitting out all night. Perhaps that was why her husband had left her; he was even more hopeless than she. At least she was gay. She stepped from her littered doorway in pretty clothes, like a woman who lives in the barrio walking to a limousine, stray dogs and dirt on the way.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“She formed her life day by day, taking as its materials the emptiness and panic as well as the rushes, like fever, of contentment. I am beyond fear of solitude, she thought, I am past it. The idea thrilled her. I am beyond it and I will not sink. This submission, this triumph made her stronger. It was as if finally, after having passed through inferior stages, her life had found a form worthy of it.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“THEY WERE DIVORCED IN THE fall. I wish it could have been otherwise. The clarity of those autumn days affected them both. For Nedra, it was as if her eyes had been finally opened; she saw everything, she was filled with a great, unhurried strength. It was still warm enough to sit outdoors. Viri walked, the old dog wandering behind him. The fading grass, the trees, the very light made him dizzy, as if he were an invalid or starving. He caught the aroma of his own life passing. All during the proceedings, they lived as they always had, as if nothing were going on. The judge who gave her the final decree pronounced her name wrong. He was tall and decaying, the pores visible in his cheeks. He misread a number of things; no one corrected him. It was November. Their last night together they sat listening to music—it was Mendelssohn—like a dying composer and his wife. The room was peaceful, filled with beautiful sound. The last logs burned. “Would you like some ouzo?” she asked. “I don’t think there is any.” “We drank it all?” “Some time ago.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“Strauss’s, for instance, which begins in the heavens. The artist doesn’t ascend to glory, he appears in it, he already has it and the world is prepared to recognize him. Meteoric, like a comet—those are the phrases we apply, and it’s true, it is a kind of burning. It makes them highly visible, and at the same time it consumes them, and it’s only afterwards, when the brilliance is gone, when their bones are lying alongside those of lesser men, that one can really judge. I mean, there are famous works, renowned in antiquity, and today absolutely forgotten: books, buildings, works of art.”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


“It's just that it's hard to believe in greatness...”
― James Salter, quote from Light Years


About the author

James Salter
Born place: in New York City, The United States
Born date June 10, 1925
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