Quotes from The Third Policeman

Flann O'Brien ·  200 pages

Rating: (13.3K votes)


“Your talk," I said, "is surely the handiwork of wisdom because not one word of it do I understand.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“You mean that because I have no name I cannot die and that you cannot be held answerable for death even if you kill me?"

"That is about the size of it," said the Sergeant.

I felt so sad and so entirely disappointed that tears came into my eyes and a lump of incommunicable poignancy swelled tragically in my throat. I began to feel intensely every fragment of my equal humanity. The life that was bubbling at the end of my fingers was real and nearly painful in intensity and so was the beauty of my warm face and the loose humanity of my limbs and the racy health of my red rich blood. To leave it all without good reason and to smash the little empire into small fragments was a thing too pitiful even to refuse to think about.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles...when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“I am completely half afraid to think.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman



“What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Is it life?" he answered, "I would rather be without it," he said, "for there is queer small utility in it. You cannot eat it or drink it or smoke it in your pipe, it does not keep the rain out and it is a poor armful in the dark if you strip it and take it to bed with you after a night of porter when you are shivering with the red passion. It is a great mistake and a thing better done without, like bed-jars and foreign bacon.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed to those who seek the higher places.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“My father...was a man who understood all dogs thoroughly and treated them like human beings.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Always ask any questions that are to be asked and never answer any. Turn everything you hear to your own advantage. Always carry a repair outfit. Take left turns as much as possible. Never apply your front brake first.

‘If you follow them’, said the Sergeant, ‘you will save your soul and never get a fall on a slippery road.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman



“Here I had a strange idea not unworthy of de Selby. Why was Joe so disturbed at the suggestion that he had a body? What if he had a body? A body with another body inside it in turn, thousands of such bodies within each other like the skins of an onion, receding to some unimaginable ultimum? Was I in turn merely a link in a vast sequence of imponderable beings, the world I knew merely the interior of the being whose inner voice I myself was? Who or what was the core and what monster in what world was the final uncontained colossus? God? Nothing? Was I receiving these wild thoughts from Lower Down or were they brewing newly in me to be transmitted Higher Up?”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“The continual cracking of your feet on the road makes a certain quantity of road come up into you. When a man dies they say he returns to clay but too much walking fills you up with clay far sooner (or buries bits of you along the road) and brings your death half-way to meet you. It is not easy to know what is the best way to move yourself from one place to another.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Never before had I believed or suspected that I had a soul but just then I knew I had. I knew also that my soul was friendly, was my senior in years and was solely concerned for my own welfare. For convenience I called him Joe. I felt a little reassured to know that I was not altogether alone. Joe was helping me.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Past humanity is not only implicit in each new man born but is contained in him. Humanity is an ever-widening spiral and life is the beam that plays briefly on each succeeding ring. All humanity from its beginning to its end is already present but the beam has not yet played beyond you.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“I would not hurt you, little man,' he said.

'I think that I got the disorder in Mullingar,' I explained. I knew that I had gained his confidence and that the danger of violence was now passed. He then did something which took me by surprise. He pulled up his own ragged trouser and showed me his own left leg. It was smooth, shapely and fairly fat but it was made of wood also.

'That is a funny coincidence,' I said. I now perceived the reason for his sudden change of attitude.

'You are a sweet man,' he responded, 'and I would not lay a finger on your personality. I am the captain of all the one-legged men in the country. I knew them all up to now except one—your own self—and that one is now also my friend into the same bargain. If any man looks at you sideways, I will rip his belly.'

'That is very friendly talk,' I said.

'Wide open,' he said, making a wide movement with his hands. 'If you are ever troubled, send for me and I will save you from the woman.'

'Women I have no interest in at all,' I said smiling. 'A fiddle is a better thing for diversion.'

'It does not matter. If your perplexity is an army or a dog, I will come with all the one-leggèd men and rip the bellies. My real name is Martin Finnucane.'

'It is a reasonable name,' I assented.

'Martin Finnucane,' he repeated, listening to his own voice as if he were listening to the sweetest music in the world.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman



“If a man stands before a mirror and sees in it his reflection, what he sees is not a true reproduction of himself but a picture of himself when he was a younger man”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Everything is composed of small particles of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable other geometrical figures too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. These diminutive gentlemen are called atoms. Do you follow me intelligently?”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Who is Fox?", I asked.
"Policeman Fox is the third of us," said the Sergeant, "but we never see him or hear tell of him at because he is always on his beat and never off it and he signs the book in the middle of the night when even a badger is asleep. He is as mad as a hare, he never interrogates the public and he is always taking notes.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“...if you identify life with enjoyment I am told there is better brand of it in the cities than in the country parts and there is said to be a very superior brand of it to be had in certain parts of France. Did you ever notice that cats have a lot of it in them when they are quite juveniles?”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“De Selby likens the position of a human on the earth to that of a man on a tight-wire who must continue walking along the wire or perish, being, however, free in all other respects. Movement in this restricted orbit results in the permanent hallucination known conventionally as 'life' with its innumerable concomitant limitations, afflictions and anomalies.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman



“The first beginnings of wisdom...is to ask questions but never to answer any.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“This benign property of his prose is not, one hopes, to be attributed to the reason noticed by the eccentric du Garbandier, who said 'the beauty of reading a page of de Selby is that it leads one inescapably to the happy conviction that one is not, of all nincompoops, the greatest'.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“It is nearly an insoluble pancake, a conundrum of inscrutable potentialities, a snorter.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“We were in an entirely other field by this time and in the company of white-coloured brown-coloured cows. They watched us quietly as we made a path between them and changed their attitudes slowly as if to show us all of the maps on their fat sides. They gave us to understand that they knew us personally and thought a lot of our families and I lifted my hat to the last of them as I passed her as a sign of my appreciation.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“The silence in the room was so unusually quiet that the beginning of it seemed rather loud when the utter stillness of the end of it had been encountered.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman



“...it is a great thing to do what is necessary before it becomes essential and unavoidable.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Tell me, ' he continued, 'would it be true that you are an itinerant dentist and that you came on a tricycle?'
'It would not, ' I replied.
'On a patent tandem?'
'No.'
[...]
'Then maybe you are no ...dentist at all, ' he said, 'but only a man after a dog licence or papers for a bull?'
'I did not say I was a dentist, ' I said sharply, 'and I did not say anything about a bull.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


“Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death.”
― Flann O'Brien, quote from The Third Policeman


About the author

Flann O'Brien
Born place: in Strabane, Ireland
Born date October 5, 1911
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