Favorite Quotes from Les Misérables, Part 2

As I’ve progressed in my journey through Les Misérables, I have continued to find quotes that are moving, profound, and beautiful. While philosophically and theologically, Hugo has some beliefs with which I disagree, he is always worth listening to. This will not be the last post in this series, as there are more quotes I would like to share in the near future (Click here for Part 1).

[Describing what it is like to die in a war] If there is anything terrible, if there exists a reality which surpasses dreams, it is this: to live, to see the sun; to be in full possession of virile force; to possess health and joy; to laugh valiantly to rush towards a glory which one sees dazzingly in front of one; to feel in one’s breast lungs which breath, a heart which beats, a will which reasons; to speak, think, hope, love; to have a mother, to have a wife, to have children; to have the light—and all at once, in the space of a shout, in less than a minute, to sink into an abyss; to fall, to roll to crush, to be crushed; to see ears of wheat flowers leaves, branches; to be able to catch hold of anything; to feel one’s sword useless, men beneath one, horses on top of one; to struggle in vain, since one’s bones have been broken by some kick in the darkness; to feel a heel which makes one’s eyes start from their sockets; to bite horses’ shoes in one’s rage; to stifle, to yell, to writhe; to be beneath, and to say to one’s self, “But just a little while ago, I was a living man!”

A hundred years is youth in a church and age in a house. It seems as though man’s lodging partook of his ephemeral character, and God’s house of his eternity.

Nothing oppresses the heart like symmetry. It is because symmetry is ennui, and ennui is at the very foundation of grief. Despair yawns. Something more terrible than hell where one suffers may be imagine, and that is a hell where one is bored.

Children accept joy and happiness instantly and familiarly being themselves by nature joy and happiness.

She did not understand Latin, but she understood the book.

What contemplation for the mind, and what endless food for thought, is the reverberation of God upon the human wall!

A faith; this is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing.

[About nuns and other religious] There certainly must be some who pray constantly for those who never pray at all.

[Regarding nuns] We, who do not believe what these women believe, but who, like them, live by faith—we have never been able to think without a sort of tender and religious terror, without a sort of pity, that is full of envy, of those devoted, trembling and trusting creatures, of these humble and august souls, who dare to dwell on the very brink of the mystery, waiting between the world which is closed and heaven which is not yet open, turned towards the light which one cannot see, possessing the sole happiness of thinking that they know where it is, aspiring towards the gulf, and the unknown, their eyes fixed motionless on the darkness, kneeling, bewildered, stupefied, shuddering, half lifted, at times, by the deep breaths of eternity.

Joy is the ebb of terror.

A smile is the same as sunshine; it banishes winter from the human countenance.

And moreover, when both are sincere and good, no men so penetrate each other, and so amalgamate with each other, as an old priest and and old soldier. At bottom, the man is the same. The one has devoted his life to his country here below, the other to his country on high; that is the only difference.

What a spectacle is the night! One hears dull sounds, without knowing whence they proceed; one beholds Jupiter, which is twelve hundred times larger than the earth, glowing like a firebrand, the azure is black, the stars shine; it is formidable.

In the sacred shadows, there lies latent light. Volcanoes are full of a shadow that is capable of flashing forth. Every form begins by being night. The catacombs, in which the first mass was said, were not alone the cellar of Rome, they were the vaults of the world.

There is one thing sadder than to see one’s children die; it is to see them leading an evil life.

Right triumphant has no need of being violent; right is the just and the true.

Who then, can calculate the course of a molecule? How do we know that the creation of worlds is not determined by the fall of grains of sand? Who knows the reciprocal ebb and flow of the infinitely great and the infinitely little, the reverberations of causes in the precipices of being, and the avalanches of creation? The tiniest worm is of great importance; the great is little, the little is great; everything is balanced in necessity; alarming vision for the mind.

There are marvelous relations between beings and things; in that inexhaustible whole, from the sun to the grub, nothings despises the other; all have need of each other. The lights does not bear away terrestrial perfumes into the azure depths, without knowing what it is doing; the night distributes stellar essences to the sleeping flowers. All birds that fly have round their leg the thread of the infinite. Germination is complicated with the bursting forth of a meteor and with the peck of a swallow cracking its egg, and it places on one level the birth of an earthworm and the advent of Socrates. Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two possesses the larger field of vision? Choose.

In the vast cosmic exchanges the universal life goes and comes in unknown quantities, rolling entirely in the invisible mystery of effluvia, employing everything, not losing a single dream, not a single slumber, sowing an animalcule here, crumbling to bits a planet there, oscillating and winding, making of light a force and of thought an element, disseminated and invisible, dissolving all, except that geometrical point, the I; bringing everything back to the soul-atom; expanding everything in God, entangling all activity, from summit to base, in the obscurity of a dizzy mechanism, attaching the flight of an insect to the movement of the earth, subordinating, who knows? Where it only by the identity of the law, the evolution of the comet in the firmament to the whirling of the infusoria in the drop of water. A machine made of mind. Enormous gearing, the prime motor of which is the gnat, and whose final wheel is the zodiac.

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