The Old Gods Never Die:
The Wisdom of
Thomas Burnett Swann











Over the years I have gathered together wise, provocative, or moving phrases in my commonplace book, which I have slowly started to put into an online version, and my wife Fay observed how many of these ideas came from the work of Thomas Burnett Swann. As I have stated elsewhere, Swann was a bit of a sentimentalist, and a friend of mine has noted that these aphorisms may not be applicable to the world as we know it. I like to think that if we were to guide our lives by his words, the world would be a better place, perhaps the sort of place where his wisdom was not only helpful, but integral. In order to let his insight shine once again, I am currently re-reading his prose works, gleaning from them the points of light with which I hope to chart a map that will, if followed, lead us to a better world, in which races respect one another and mingle freely, in which ones sexual orientation need not be deviation, in which a life in nature need not be like Hobbes' state of nature.

My motto is "Oh, that I had used my powers for good and not for trivia!" in part because I spend my days in pursuit of protozoa and other tiny things and matters; I can only hope that this page, while in fact being small in its efforts, might remind people to be a little kinder to one another.

A brief technical note: The best Thomas Burnett Swann resource I have found on the web was created and is maintained by Steven Saylor; I have consulted his excellent bibliography as the guide to the chronological arrangement of these quotations.

But the city can learn from the forest!
Remus in "Where Is the Bird of Fire?" in Where is the Bird of Fire? 16.

What is there to say about love? It isn't happiness, altogether; it is sadness too. It is simply possession.
Remus in Where Is the Bird of Fire? in Where is the Bird of Fire? 29 (note the revised vision in Lady of the Bees (1976) 79).

Two children they seemed, warm in each others arms and forgetful that love, however strong, is also brief, because it is bound by the frailties of the flesh.
Sylvan in Where Is the Bird of Fire? in Where is the Bird of Fire? 51.

A man loves where he lessens pain.
Eros in The Sudden Wings

What is love without trust?
Eros

You told me that love was a pine torch, kindled in a second. There is another kind, I think. A field set afire by the slow accumulating rays of a summer sun. Sudden wings or slow--either is love.
Phoebe to Eros

Which is the sweetest apple on the tree? The one on the topmost branch, defended by angry bees.
Aruns in "The Dolphin and the Deep", (1963) in The Dolphin and the Deep 49.

That is the beauty of flowers. They are brief and slight.
Tychon in "The Murex" (1964), in The Dolphin and the Deep 142.

"You are different,' [our mother] said. 'But difference may be a badge instead of a brand.'" Tychon in "The Murex", in The Dolphin and the Deep 143.

There are other virtues than courage.
Lordon in "The Murex", in The Dolphin and the Deep 155.

It is better to be cruel for love than for hate.
Ianiskos in "Vashti" (1965) in Where is the Bird of Fire? 97.

Most of us, I think, build cages for one another, and without the excuse of childish loneliness.
Ianiskos in "Vashti" in Where is the Bird of Fire? 98.

Love has as many branches as the Gaokerena Tree.
Vashti in "Vashti" in Where is the Bird of Fire? 109.

But vengeance was not an opiate for grief.
Narrator of The Weirwoods (1967) 4.

Shut in the garden by a wall of bricks, she had shut herself in the smaller garden of her dream.
Narrator of The Weirwoods 14.

A memory is poor company. It's like the pool in the atrium. Today it's full. tomorrow it may be as dry as a riverbed in fall.
Tanaquil in The Weirwoods 34.

Inexperience can be a novelty. You have the wherewithal, and that is what matters.
Vegoia in The Weirwoods 51.

I think that it is better to have no heart, than to have one and not to use it.
Vegoia in The Weirwoods 64.

She grasped the terrible truth that love can never be compelled, from man, from sprite, from beast; that one who loves, however she longs for requital, however long she waits, may receive in return the reverse of what she gives, the dark side of the moon.
Narrator in The Weirwoods 99.

Virginity is a rose without scent. It grows sweet only with the plucking.
Vegoia in The Weirwoods 103.

But sudden freedom is like unmixed wine. It muddles the sense and clouds the memory--even the memory of love.
Arnth in The Weirwoods 106.

He was one of those rarest of rarities, a dreamer who acts on his dreams.
Lady Mary in "The Manor of Roses", (1966) in The Dolphin and the Deep 65)

The heart is like the catacombs of the old Christians [...] You can open a second chamber without closing the first.
Ruth in "The Manor of Roses", in The Dolphin and the Deep 120.

Someday you'll realize that needing a person is the greatest gift you can give him.
Ruth in "The Manor of Roses", in The Dolphin and the Deep 120.

Earth, the mother of roses, has many children.
Lady Mary in "The Manor of Roses", in The Dolphin and the Deep 124.

Though beyond my first youth, I have been called as well-built as a Roman road and as much fun to travel.
Deirdre in "Bear (1970)" in Where is the Bird of Fire? 116.

Humans have questioned why the Great Mother created so many races with a single sex and compelled them to mingle if they wished to multiply. The answer is clear: she likes variety. She likes for opposite to attract opposite. She wants her many-faced, many-figures children to value difference as well as familiarity.
Zoe in Forest of Forever (1971) 14.

But you always tell me never to look back without a chuckle. Life's a jester, not a headman. Isn't that what you say?
Eunostos in Forest of Forever (1971) 38.

And it is the inescapable burden of poets to forget that there are summers as well as springs.
Zoe in Forest of Forever (1971) 155.

It isn't in the scheme of the Great Mother for us to have everything we want [...] The lucky ones among us get half. But reach high, and half is enough.
Zoe in Forest of Forever (1971) 14.

Never? Oh, my friend, that is a word for cynics.
Zoe in Forest of Forever (1971) 14.

If I have any wisdom at all, it is this: dreams by themselves are for children. But if you dream and reach and wait all at the same time, then pygmies can topple giants, cities can rise from rubble!
Zoe in Forest of Forever (1971) 14.

A garden should extend and not circumscribe nature.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 39.

Brown is not only colorless but the reservoir of many colors, which only need to be awakened by the soft fingers of light.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 40.

An untraveled Minotaur is a hungry Minotaur, and reading feedeth him like beer and honey cakes.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 40.

The forest is like a Man or a Beast, with many moods.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 43.

It doesn't matter what your heart does as long as your feet stand still.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 43.

But age became him as it did the oaks and the cedars.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 46.

Playful moments endure only in stone.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 52.

[Zoe] was three hundred and sixty-nine years old (a lover for each year, she claimed), and like her tree she looked as if many woodpecker had mottled her skin and many a storm weatherbeaten her complexion; but beauty had not forsaken her: the full-blown beauty of an earth mother whose ample lap could pillow a lover's head and whose opulent breasts could suckle a score of children.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 57.

The death which comes at the end of a long life, in a warm bed surrounded by loving children, is a lying down and not a darkness; it is not to be feared. But a slow and agonizing death in the fullness of youth is dreadful to men and dreaded even by gods.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 77.

A man is strong, and strength makes him kind instead of tyrannical. A man is courageous, not because he lacks fear but because he conquers fear.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 79.

Who can say if the poppies dream of butterflies in amethyst clouds, the fig tree dreads the coming of the ravenous bees to puncture its fruit, the vines exult in the sun and, growing warm, drowse in the lengthening shade of a parasol? Dreams, dreads, exultance, and repose--and love, always love. Leaves instead of limbs, but hearts and brains, identity and individuality. It is not necessary to walk in order to love.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 126.

But I could not arrest the passage of that treacherous lizard, time.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 155.

No love is ever lost. It changes its form like water, from lake to river to cloud, and when we are most a desert, it falls from the sky in fructifying rain.
Thea in Day of the Minotaur 156.

A truly wise man is too modest to recognize his own wisdom.
Zoe in Day of the Minotaur 160.

How shall we meet except through the flesh? The soul must see through the body's eyes and feed through the body's fingers, or else it is blind and unfeeling.
Thea in Day of the Minotaur 163.

Love is not, as some poets say, a raging brush fire, but a hearthfire, which burns hotly, it is true, but in order to warm the cold sea-caves of the heart and light its pools with anemones of radiance.
Eunostos in Day of the Minotaur 164.

Familiarity is one of the faces of love...
Bard in Moondust 30.

Men call women mysterious to avoid the trouble of understanding her.
Rahab in Moondust 100.

Loneliness is like a sea anemone writhing in your entrails. Nobody knows its there but you. But it grows and wounds and finally devours you.
Elizabeth Meynell, in The Goat Without Horns (1971) 59.

Nobody can save ones soul except oneself.
Elizabeth Meynell, in The Goat Without Horns 70.

It is a human vanity to assume that every animal exists to be eaten, trapped, or taught, and even perceptive Charlie, though he did none of these things to me, did not guess that perhaps some animals could teach some humans.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 76.

A true lover was never a judge.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 98.

Darkness was the proper state for love, because love was its own light.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 99.

He could love without guilt because he did not betray his own high code. Because to Charlie the only sin in love-making was really loveless-making; the sin of estranging the heart and the body, when the body took what it wanted, exulted in fleshly conquest, while the heart looked on, a bemused and envious stranger.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 99.

But we dolphins have a favorite epigram: The Great Triton helps helpless little ones, but big ones must help themselves. Perhaps I was still young enough to deserve a measure of help, but only if I made the most of much.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 127.

I remembered an adage taught to me by the Old Bull. Confidence kills sharks; over-confidence kills dolphins.
Gloomer in The Goat Without Horns 157.

In Dardania, we have a saying..."Love is a dragonfly." Do you know what that means?
That it comes swiftly and by surprise.
And may leave as swiftly.
Everything leaves. But it comes back again.
Aeneas and Mellonia in Green Phoenix (1972) 61.

Poems do not create love, but love creates poems.
Narrator of Green Phoenix 61 (Thanks to Steven Saylor for pointing this one out to me!)

A real man is not ashamed to show what he feelsTrue manliness is not being afraid that someone will take you for womanish.
Mellonia in Green Phoenix 87.

But learning was not wisdom.
Narrator of Green Phoenix 118.

Her own ways were humble but they were not low.
Narrator of Green Phoenix 119.

But the truest freedom consists of letting in, not keeping out.
Mellonia in Green Phoenix 139.

[Dido] tried to turn summer back into spring, and ignored the drip of the water clock, the shadow of a sundial. I think it's a greater mistake to turn summer into fall, and listen too intently to the water clock, or fix your eyes on the shadow.
Mellonia in Green Phoenix 139.

Anemones follow the frost.
Erinna in Wolfwinter (1972) x.

Chastity is nothing but an unplucked fig.
Sappho in Wolfwinter 3.

Denial of desire, that was the shame.
Sappho in Wolfwinter 9.

Chastity was a negation, love-making an affirmation.
Sappho in Wolfwinter 13.

Wisdom is nothing but the inabilty to have fun. I would rather be young and foolish.
The nameless hall porter in Wolfwinter 16.

[Satyrs] lived happily in the moment, and yet the moment was enriched by the traditions of the past. What didn't trouble them was the future. They had a saying: Death is a guide, not a murderer. Where he guides you depends on where you have been.
Tages in Wolfwinter 51.

Love divided is not love lessened, Sappho says 54.
Erinna in Wolfwinter

There is something to be said for the polite evasions of men. Truth can be a crystal-tipped dart.
Erinna in Wolfwinter 140.
All men are equal in Sheol.
Jonathan in How are the Mighty Fallen (1974) 12.

What the heart gives is never too much.
Jonathan 39.

Some men are meant to rule kingdoms. Others to love.
David 39.

The body is the temple of the heart. How shall we reach the sacred image unless we enter the gates?
An old Philistine philosopher 43.

A mans love for a man is neither more nor less than a mans love for a woman, it is only different.
Ahinoam/Honey Hair 47.

A sin is when you hurt people.
David 94.

What is courage without fear? Its nothing but foolhardiness.
David 94.

Time is what happens to you.
Jonathan 96.

To love means to link; to link means to express the continuity of life, the unity of existence.
Jonathan 101.

There ought to be laughter in love. But there also ought to be wonder.
Alecto 117

Mortals must weep. It is the condition of life.
David 131.

What is life except a mosaic of hopes--of brightly colored stones--sard and onyx and beryl--which we polish daily and replace if they are lost?
Jonathan 135.

"Only the moment exists. Polish it like a guinea and grasp it in your hands.
Arachne Dobbins in The Not-World (1975) 45.

Black is a private color; it holds all colors, if you know how to look.
Arachne Dobbins 45.

A king has no need of a crown. He carries kingliness in his heart.
"The Night of the Unicorn," (1975) in Unicorns!, ed. Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, 117.

Love is like an oyster. There are many ways of extricating the pearl.
Tutu, citing an old adage, in The Minikins of Yam (1976) 57.

Nobility in love consists of skill, not birth.
Tutu 57.

Was love not a freedom as well as a bondage, a soaring more surely than that of that of a risen roc?
Harkhuf 83.

Orders are useless in love.
Ti (Ka) 104.

Loving a second person needn't subtract from the first, it may even add.
Pepy/Harpocrates 145.

Poetry and fiction possess a truth which eludes history.
Thomas Burnett Swann, in his "Historical Note," Lady of the Bees (1976) vii.

He was happy until he died. There are worse things than death at twenty-five.
Mellonia 21.

For Remus--Romulus too--had taught me that men could show affection without becoming women.
Sylvan 47.

What is there to say about love? It isnt happy, altogether, although it includes happiness. It isn't sad, though it includes sadness. It's a kind of--intermingling.
Remus 79 (note the earlier version in Where Is the Bird of Fire? (1970) 29).

It is rare that a friend can say: "At one precise moment I began to love you." The love which is friendship grows like poplar tree, a ring at time; roots, trunk, branches, leaves.
Mellonia 111.

A man is the sum of his friends.
Mellonia 113.

Is the grain of sand less than the mountain? Is the moon more than the luna moth? Here, there is neither more nor less. There are only differences.
Lordon 117.

Whenever you make a new friend, everything is unexplored country. Together you draw the maps.
Mellonia 166.

Today is now. Now is enough.
Stella in The Gods Abide (1976) 27.

Sufficient unto the day are the joys thereof.
Stella in The Gods Abide 27.

The Earth loves nakedness in all her kin. Do trees conceal their brown and brawny trunks? Do bears engird their loins with a sheepskin or a string of leaves?
Lordon in The Gods Abide 33.

Love and time do not walk hand in hand.
Narrator of The Gods Abide 40.

A poem should not be explained. A poem is.
Nodotus in The Gods Abide 48.

The old gods never die,
The gods abide.
Stella in The Gods Abide 72.

It is often the way of love. After joy, sadness. After harvesting, snow. But seedtime follows the frostinexorably.
Stella in The Gods Abide 78.

Love divided is like the loaves of bread in the Christian parable. Give them to those in need, and then they multiply.
Stella in The Gods Abide 78.

Love is a gift but even a gift must be perfected.
Tutelina in The Gods Abide 82.

Love is prodigality of the soul.
Tutelina in The Gods Abide 82.

Metamorphoses are the spice of love.
Tutelina in The Gods Abide 82.

What is hello without goodbye?
Stella in The Gods Abide 98.

What is a man or a woman but memory laid upon memory, like many-colored bricks?
Stella in The Gods Abide 130-131.

To be a man is be unashamed of tears.
Dylans father, cited by Dylan, in The Gods Abide 137.

To love those we understand is a gift. To love without understanding is a miracle.
Stella in The Gods Abide 141.

Never look for happiness. In time she will knock on your door, a stranger who may become your friend. When she chooses.
Stella in The Gods Abide 142.

Anticipation is a trickster. The truth is always better or worse.
Stella in The Gods Abide 144.

All things return in time.
Ceridwen, cited by Stella, in The Gods Abide 151.


Who can hold the sun?
Narrator of The Gods Abide 152.

Going is not forgetting.
Marcia in The Gods Abide 154.

The heart is a murex shell. Its chambers are many, and who can foresee its windings?
Marcia in The Gods Abide 158.

Time is a kind friend, if you win his trust.
Stella in The Gods Abide 158.

The best journeys are those whose ends can't be foreseen.
Stephen in The Tournament of Thorns (1976) 63.

There is nothing more uglifying than a mixture of malice and ignorance.
Nicholas in Will-o-the-Wisp (1976) 33.

Love doesn't necessarily beget love, but friendship does beget friendship, at least between kindred spirits.
Robin (Robert Herrick) in Will-o-the-Wisp 40.

How can you judge a lyre until you've plucked a lot of strings?
Philip in Will-o-the-Wisp 69.

The first to cry witch is rarely accused of witchcraft.
Stella in Will-o-the-Wisp 87.

How can you judge a lyre until you've plucked a lot of strings?
Philip in Will-o-the-Wisp 69.

But what is contentment except an absence of sorrow? It isn't happiness.
Robin in Will-o-the-Wisp 101.

Marriage is a grace and a promise never to doubt that the world, however muddled it seems to us at times, runs like a beautifully wrought waterclock.
Stella in Will-o-the-Wisp 106.

The wheat may be harvested but the earth abides.
Stella in Will-o-the-Wisp 108.

Friends are to be loved instead of changed.
Zoe in Cry Silver Bells 40.

Time is measured by deeds, not years. If we are happy half of the time, and never hopeless or bitter even the other half, why then our lives shall seem very long.
Marguerite in Cry Silver Bells 186.

Was it not better that men should love each other, than kill each other?
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, 1977, p. 40.

If you've got it, flaunt it.
Anna, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 39.

Friends don't kneel to each other.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 48.

Love is losing. But at the last, the lost is forever found.

Electra, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 51.

Look for temptation, but guard your money pouch!

Guard, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 53.

It is not given to many to recapture their youth.
Dido, in in Queens Walk in the Dusk, 68.

Memory is a Proteus who changes form. We can teach him to suit our moods.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 77.

Perfection is dull.
Aeneas, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 79.

Love is greater risk than war.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 79.

No one commands the heart, least of all ourselves. Love is like the pollen from the marigold. It wanders with the wind and sprinkles us like golden rain.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 100.

Pity is for the weak. It is the loving makes us gods. The being loved? Well, that makes us happy men and women.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 101.

We do not need to touch to intertwine.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 102

Must everything be edible or practical, valued for its use and not its beauty, strangeness, difference, or charm?
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 102.

Love is addition, not subtraction.
Ascanius, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 107.

Time isn't length. It's what happens to us.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 117.

Time isn't so many drips of a water clock. Time is what happens during the drips.
Dido, in Queens Walk in the Dusk, p. 119.





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2002 Hermester Barrington




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