Ginsberg Would Have Wanted You to Get this Tattoo

By: Betty Noe


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.”


The Writing on the Wall

Most word-lovers I know, myself included, have the same habit: collecting quotes. Whether it be two lines from a poem or something a professor said in class, taking those words out of context and into one’s own life is important.

I’ve been “living” in the same studio space in the UConn art building for a year and a half now, and the result is a wall covered in quotes scribbled in Sharpie– lines from favorite authors, wisdom from professors and mentors, excerpts from literature, etc. Here are some photos of my favorites.



This is one of my all-time favorites. It’s the most blatantly inspirational quote that doesn’t immediately turn me off with syrupy-sweet promises of sunshine and rainbows. Instead, Camus gives me the affirmation that (I think) we all need. The intense uncertainty and frustration that all humans will feel in their lifetime is not a need for despair, but is instead part of what makes us human and gives us the desire to create and figure things out. A link to the full text of The Myth of Sysiphus, from which the quote was taken, can be found here.


This is one of my favorite manifesto-like pieces of writing that I’ve come across. Dan Freidman’s “Be Radical,” or the 12-point Modernist agenda, is completely relevant even in today’s contemporary society. He urges us to keep a sense of humor and fantasy in our work, without losing sight of progress, personal values, and cultural duties.  An article reviewing why this agenda remains relevant, with the full text of the manifesto, can be found here.


These three lines come from two beloved poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Hass. I was taking a poetry class and we learned both of these poems at the same time, and it blew my mind. I fell in love with the way Randall Jarrell used conversational speech in unconventional ways, creating a dreamlike space that is simultaneously grounded in the reality of a middle-aged woman’s lifetime. Robert Hass’ language moves away from the conversational and back again in a very powerful way: Blackberry, blackberry, blackberryThe full text of Jarrell’s Seele im Raum can be found here, and Hass’ poem Meditation at Lagunitas can be found here.



Feed Your Inner Wanderer

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“A man cannot become wise until he has weathered/ his share of winters in this world” – from The Wanderer, trans. RM Liuzza


Though the wind-chill was still below zero this morning, little February is coming to an end and taking winter with it.  Spring is just 20 days away.

After spending months burying ourselves in winter-smelling wool and salt-stained boots, it is almost time for our timid limbs to see the sun again.  For most people, the start of spring means new starts and fresh sheets, open windows and painted toenails, outdoor runs and picnics.  The ancient symbolism of renewal is lost on no-one.  How could it be?

Spring also means space.  We can open up our homes to the universe and step out from under our winter layers.  Of course, this means our minds are opened in the spring as well.  Warmth allows our thoughts to bubble and expand past the boundaries of our selves and mingle in the air between us all.  Maybe it’s science.  Do our thoughts have a boiling point?

With space, too, comes a need to explore it.

Here are just a few quotes to feed our blooming wanderlust.  We should always keep looking for things that make us want to expand, make us want to erase our borders.

We don’t all need to pick up and live out of a backpack for six months, or burn our savings on the side of the highway, or even take a different route to class.  The point of the few quotes below is just to get us thinking.   It is an exercise in beginning to sort out what YOU think is important.  It’s a way to jumpstart a spring cleaning of the mind!

If you want to share more, feel free to do that here!

  • “Houses are full of things that gather dust” – Kerouac
  •  “Unbeing dead isn’t being alive” – e.e. cummings
  • “Then he didn’t get the book of magic tricks he wanted for his birthday and he got a pair of pants and a shirt instead.  So there you have it, Mr. Jonas.  That’s why he’s dying.” – Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
  • “To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope” – Anne Carson
  • “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn.  Climb that goddamn mountain!” – Kerouac


Here comes spring – it’s time to get ready!