Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Friday, March 12, 2010

Inspiring Words from one of the Literary Greats

Something to consider this weekend--William Faulkner's Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech-- given in 1949:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.


  1. How inspiration! Thanks so much, Karen, for posting!

  2. "He writes not of the heart but of the glands."

    True, true, true. It takes so much skill to delve deep. I especially feel this because I DO write the stories with more fantastical plots and outcomes. And to write these intricacies without becoming cliche is another matter, too. Sometimes I think, "I want to delve deeper" but then I run into "Oh, that's just dumb," and move on for the moment. But if I'm true to a character and take my time they will become real and not just another gland satisfying creature.

  3. I'm so glad that you posted this speech or I probably never would've come across it. It speak to the times that the world had just endured. And it speak to us in our times, especially as writers.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. This is an incredible speech. Thank you for posting it.

  5. That is poetry. He is a writer. I believe in the writer's soul.

  6. Hello! I found you by way of Piedmont Writer's blog. Her post today spoke to my lost, blocked muse, and yours offered Faulkner's wisdom on fear. Thank you so much for adding to my lifting spirits!

    You have a wonderful blog -- I look forward to reading much more from you :)

  7. Nicole, thank you so much. I checked out your blog-- really quick cuz I'm in a rush today-- but I need to go back again, read more, follow, etc. Because I was so thrilled to see you're a literary genre writer! Yay! We're going to be friends.

  8. Hi

    "The human heart" with all its conflicts and emotions and passions - can't really beat it for writing inspiration!

    A lovely speech - thank you for reproducing it as a reminder of what ought to be the driving force behind writers - or writing!

    p.s thank you so much for your kind words about my loss today, I really appreciate them, thank you.

    Take care

  9. What a stirring speech for writers! I was especially touched close to the end.

    It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

    We writers have a lot to live up to and pass on to future generations. Thank you for sharing this. :)

  10. I'm glad so many of you are liking this speech. It's one of my favorites. Since I'm dealing with a dental situation this weekend, I'll leave it up a bit longer, at least while I cope with the pain that comes from having postponed calling for an appointment. Hopefully I can get in on Monday.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this speech!

  12. He was not only a great writer of novels, short stories and poetry, but obviously he could also write an inspiring speech. Thanks - I really enjoyed reading it.

  13. I'd never read this before. Thanks for posting it. Hope you got your dental situation under control. I had a lot of work done last year.