Ginsberg Would Have Wanted You to Get this Tattoo

By: Betty Noe

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Browsing through the blog of the literary journal Paper Darts (a fine publication that I would recommend to anyone—even if only for the top notch staff bios) my eyes hit on a headline that I couldn’t pass-up: Five Roxane Gay quotes we just might tattoo on our biceps. Talk about a hook. That title has everything that a girl could want from an online post: tattoos, Roxane Gay, biceps. The piece itself was equally as interesting, replete with Bad Feminist wisdoms and a number of links to Gay’s many articles outside of her famed book.

This article got me thinking about more than just Queen Roxane and her sage life advice. I asked myself, what literary quotes would actually look good as a tattoo? Pretentious as it may appear, we do live in a world where Gucci Mane had a tricolor ice cream cone tattooed on his face. Therefore, a good quote isn’t the worst thing you could get inked on your body. So, let me make a few light-hearted suggestions about what you should get permanently etched on your skin (and please don’t blame me when your tattoo is inevitably misspelled).

“First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable.”

— Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway is by far Woolf’s greatest novel (A Room of One’s Own doesn’t count because it’s an essay) and it’s difficult to find a passage or a line from the book that isn’t a profound revelation on life, love, and the passage of time. That being said, not everything written in Mrs. Dalloway would make for great body art. I love this quote because, out of context, it could apply to anything you’d like and it’s not immediately recognizable as a Virginia Woolf quote. And if this line is a little too serious for your taste, you could always go with the classic “I prefer men to cauliflowers.”

“Instead of death there was light.”

— Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Part of the human condition is a fear of death, which is what makes Ivan Ilyich so timeless. Tolstoy dissects the fear of the unknown, common between all of us, without sugarcoating it. Ilyich’s long, drawn-out end to this novel comes with this final, uplifting sentiment: Instead of death there was light. Wouldn’t you like to carry these words with you wherever you go?

“The moon has lost her memory.”

— T.S. Eliot, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

We all have that one friend who’s obsessed with the moon; sometimes we are that one friend. And if you’re that person, this quote is for you. There’s no Do I dare to eat a peach? here. This poem was originally published in Eliot’s Prufrock collection and, in my opinion, it’s the unsung hero of this book (no offense to “Love Song;” it deserves all of the attention it gets). And this one line—although arguably more powerful when read in the context of its stanza—really lends itself to a tattoo.

“Time flows in strange ways on Sundays.”

— Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

While there are whole paragraphs of this book that I would willingly have tattooed on my chest, I understand that not everyone is as enamored with this novel as I am. Therefore, I’ve narrowed my search for a good Haruki Murakami-inspired tattoo down to this single sentence. In 1,157 pages, this book warps time, space, and reality in ways that I can’t summarize in one blog post. However, this one quote is indicative of the familiar surrealism that Murakami so masterfully creates. And he’s right: time does flow in strange ways on Sundays.

“the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!”

— Allen Ginsberg, “Footnote to Howl”

Isn’t it funny how the “Footnote to Howl” has become more famous than “Howl” itself? By comparing the two, however, it’s easy to see why. “Footnote” is pure Ginsberg, the poet at his finest, and it’s the reason I got hooked on his poetry in the first place. In such a racing poem, it’s hard to snatch out a single line that is small enough to make a great tattoo. But this one is my choice. I decided if I’m going to permanently attach great literature to my body, I’d like it to remind me that, “you my soul are holy.”

 

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