Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Maya Angelou? Bertha Flowers? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Rhyme and rhythm often produce a lovely euphony in poems. This notion has been expressed as follows:

Poetry is music written for the human voice.

These words have been attributed to Renaissance woman Maya Angelou, but some people assert that she disclaimed credit. Would you please help me to find a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: Traumatic experiences during Maya Angelou’s childhood caused her to stop speaking when she was young. Family friend Bertha Flowers encouraged Angelou to read novels and poetry aloud to achieve a greater understanding. This eventually led Angelou to begin talking again.

In 1982 U.S. public T.V. broadcast a 17-part series called “Creativity With Bill Moyers”. A reviewer in the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois described the premiere episode during which journalist Moyers spoke to Angelou who presented an insight from her mentor Bertha Flowers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Poetry is music written for the human voice—she must have told me that 50 times,” Angelou says.

Mrs. Flowers also told her to go home and read poetry, and she did, under her grandmother’s bed at first, and eventually she started speaking again. Now she speaks and reads and performs her poetry all over the world, but she’ll never forget Mrs. Flowers.

Thus, Maya Angelou popularized the expression under examination, but she attributed it to her respected guide Bertha Flowers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Notes:

  1. 1982 January 8, Chicago Tribune, Moyers’ ‘Creativity’ is a rare gift by Marilynn Preston on TV, Section 3, Quote Page 12, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

Talent Is Like Electricity

Maya Angelou? Claudia Tate? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful simile likens the creative talent displayed by an individual while dancing, composing, teaching, or singing to electricity. This figure of speech has been attributed to Renaissance woman Maya Angelou. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1983 Claudia Tate edited and released a collection of interviews titled “Black Women Writers At Work”. Tate asked Maya Angelou about her manifold resourcefulness 1

C.T.: You are a writer, poet, director, composer, lyricist, dancer, singer, journalist, teacher and lecturer. Can you say what the source of such creative diversity is?

ANGELOU: I don’t do the dancing anymore. The rest I try. I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. Electricity makes no judgment. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Talent Is Like Electricity

Notes:

  1. 1985 (1983 Copyright), Black Women Writers At Work, Edited by Claudia Tate, Chapter: Maya Angelou, Start Page 1, Quote Page 7, Oldcastle Books, England. (Verified with scans)

There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Maya Angelou? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou suffered in her early life, but she did not become bitter. She believed that young cynics were tragic figures. Would you please help me to find her comment on this topic?

Quote Investigator: This article mentions rape, murder, and trauma-induced muteness.

In 1988 journalist Bill Moyers produced a documentary about “Facing Evil”. Maya Angelou discussed events from her childhood. She experienced sexual abuse and responded by revealing the identity of her abuser who was jailed and later killed. These harrowing incidents caused her to become mute for almost five years.

While presenting her account within the documentary, Angelou employed the term “sordida” which means dirty, soiled, sordid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

So out of this evil, which was a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness, you see, in the sordida, I was saved. And I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Notes:

  1. Website: TV Archive at Internet Archive, Television show: Moyers Company on PBS, Interview participant: Maya Angelou, Date on website: September 5, 2014 (Rebroadcast of 1988 documentary), Upload date: September 6, 2014, Website description: Television programs stored at Internet Archive. (Accessed archive.org on January 7, 2021) link

Don’t Bring the Negative to My Door

Maya Angelou? Odetta Holmes? Velma Gibson Watts? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote investigator: The prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou overcame great obstacles in her life, and she encouraged others to maintain a positive energetic perspective. She has been credited with this saying:

Don’t bring negative to my door.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote investigator: In 1999 “Maya Angelou: The Poetry of Living” edited by Margaret Courtney-Clarke appeared. The book included laudatory testimony about Angelou from dozens of people. The singer and a civil rights activist Odetta Holmes stated the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We have been brought up to think negatively. Our parents only told us when things went wrong. But Maya always says, “Don’t bring the negative to my door.” She projects attention to the positive and helps us know what to work toward. She reminds us to look for the beauty in things.
— ODETTA

The statement ascribed to Angelou employed the phrase “the negative” instead of “negative”. The accuracy of Odetta’s report depends on her memory and veracity. Interestingly, she may have heard the saying directly from Angelou.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Bring the Negative to My Door

Notes:

  1. 1999, Maya Angelou: The Poetry of Living, Edited by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Chapter: Self-Respect, Quote Page 92, Clarkson Potter, New York. (Verified with scans)

We Are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe

Ray Bradbury? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: On Facebook I saw the following quotation displayed on a star-filled picture:

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe

The words were attributed to the prominent science fiction author Ray Bradbury, but I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In January 1975 “The Oregonian” newspaper of Portland, Oregon published a column that reviewed television and radio programs. The public television station KOAP-TV had recently broadcast a program called “Assignment America” hosted by the well-known poet Maya Angelou with Ray Bradbury as guest. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Bradbury told her, “We are on the moon today because of one man and only one man and that’s Edgar Rice Burroughs. His John Carter, ‘Warlord of Mars,’ romanced a whole generation of boys into going out and building the equipment to go to the moon.” Bradbury was fittingly interviewed in Hollywood’s Magic Castle. “We’re an impossibility in an impossible universe,” he said. “There’s really no split between science and religion. When facts stop, faith has to take over.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe

Notes:

  1. 1975 January 31, Oregonian, Behind the mike: Rousing beginning made by ‘Archer’ by Francis Murphy (The Oregonian staff), Quote Page B7, Column 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)

Jealousy in Romance Is Like Salt in Food

Maya Angelou? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I once read a piece by the prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou that contained a fascinating simile depicting jealousy in a love affair as a spice or salt because it enhanced the flavor of the relationship. I have not been able to relocate this passage, and now I am less certain she wrote it. Would you please help locate this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1993 Maya Angelou released a collection titled “Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”. One short passage titled “Jealousy” referred to that puissant emotion as an intoxicant but also included a cautionary note. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It must be remembered, however, that jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Jealousy in Romance Is Like Salt in Food

Notes:

  1. 1993, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou, Section: Jealousy, Quote Page 129, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)

A Bird Doesn’t Sing Because It Has an Answer, It Sings Because It Has a Song

Maya Angelou? Joan Walsh Anglund? William Hazlitt? Alfred Lord Tennyson? Jimmie Allison? Lou Holtz?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2015 the U.S. Postal Service released a controversial commemorative stamp featuring the prominent author Maya Angelou which displayed the following words:

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

Angelou’s best-known work was titled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, and the expression above seems to be thematically connected; however, the words were not originally crafted by Angelou. Would you please explore the provenance of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in “A Cup of Sun: A Book of Poems” by Joan Walsh Anglund, a popular children’s book author. The collection was published in 1967, and the following verse was printed by itself on a single page; note that the phrasing differed slightly from the words on the stamp because it used the identifier “he” instead of “it”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A bird does not sing because he has an answer.
He sings because he has a song.

The quotation was reassigned to the category Chinese proverb by 1984. In 1995 it was re-ascribed to someone named Howard Clemmons, and by 2001 it was reassigned to Maya Angelou. Detailed citations are given further below.

Speculations and pronouncements about the motivations of singing birds have a long and variegated history. The examples shown in this article will emphasize the internal wellsprings of avian desire instead of external goals.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located valuable citations for this topic and shared them with QI for this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Bird Doesn’t Sing Because It Has an Answer, It Sings Because It Has a Song

Notes:

  1. 1967, A Cup of Sun: A Book of Poems by Joan Walsh Anglund, Quote Page 15 (also printed on inside front flap), Published by Harcourt, Brace & World, New York (Verified with scans)

A Rainy Day, Lost Luggage, and Tangled Christmas Tree Lights

Maya Angelou? H. Jackson Brown Jr.? A 52-Year-Old Person?

Dear Quote Investigator: Each of us must occasionally experience irritating situations. Maturity and self-control help to keep a person steady. A quotation touching on this theme has been attributed to the prominent poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Here are two versions:

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights

I have been unable to determine where or when Angelou said this. Are these really her words?

Quote Investigator: Probably not.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1991 compilation by the best-selling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. titled “Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff”. The book printed a set of comical and astute sayings from individuals who were identified only by age. Here is a sampling of four remarks from Brown’s book. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. —Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. —Age 53

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. —Age 64

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be a pain. —Age 82

The phrase “rainy holiday” was used instead of “rainy day”. A holidaymaker hoping for sun would certainly be aggravated with downpours.

By 2003 all four of these statements from different people had implausibly been reassigned to Maya Angelou.

Continue reading A Rainy Day, Lost Luggage, and Tangled Christmas Tree Lights

Notes:

  1. 1991, Live and Learn and Pass It On: People ages 5 to 95 share what they’ve discovered about life, love, and other good stuff, Written and compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.,”luggage” Quote Page 85,”parents” Quote Page 31, “mitt” Quote Page 47,”pains” Quote Page 25, Published by Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Items have been selected and ordered to match the sequence in the March 2003 Maya Angelou citation) (Verified with scans)

Easy Reading Is Hard Writing

Maya Angelou? Nathaniel Hawthorne? Thomas Hood? Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Charles Allston Collins? Anthony Trollope? Lord Byron? William Makepeace Thackeray? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Writers should strive to create texts that are informative, interesting, stimulating, and readable. But one of my favorite sayings reveals that this can be a remarkably difficult task:

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

I thought this adage was coined by the prominent author Maya Angelou, but recently I learned that she credited Nathaniel Hawthorne. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: This topic is complicated by the existence of two complementary statements that are often confused. Many different versions of these statements have circulated over the years. Here are two expository instances:

1) Easy writing results in hard reading.
2) Easy reading requires hard writing.

An extended discussion of the first maxim is available under the title “Easy Writing’s Vile Hard Reading” located here. This entry will focus on the second maxim.

The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI appeared in the London periodical “The Athenaeum” in 1837. The humorist, poet, and essayist Thomas Hood wrote a letter to the editor which was printed under the title “Copyright and Copywrong”. Hood commented on the process of writing. In the original text the word “damned” was partially censored to yield “d__d”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

And firstly, as to how he writes, upon which head there is a wonderful diversity of opinions; one thinks that writing is “as easy as lying,” and pictures the author sitting carefully at his desk “with his glove on,” like Sir Roger de Coverley’s poetical ancestor. A second holds that “the easiest reading is d__d hard writing,” and imagines Time himself beating his brains over an extempore.

Hood placed the adage between quotation marks suggesting that it was already in use. In fact, variant statements containing the phrases “hard reading” and “easy writing” were already being disseminated, and the expression probably evolved from those antecedents. Hence, apportioning credit for the formulation of this maxim is a difficult task.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Easy Reading Is Hard Writing

Notes:

  1. 1837 April 22, The Athenaeum: Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts, Copyright and Copywrong, (Letter to the Editor of the Athenaeum from Thomas Hood), Start Page 285, Quote Page 286 and 287, Printed by James Holmes, London, Published at the Office of The Athenaeum, London. (Google Books Full View) link

They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Frank A. Patterson Jr.? Maya Angelou? Carl W. Buehner? Carl W. Buechner? Carol Buchner? Don Aslett? Jerry Johnston? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most valuable advice that I have ever heard for speakers and teachers is the following:

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

This statement has been attributed to Carol Buchner, Maya Angelou, and others. The essential insight is that a skilled communicator must be aware of the emotional valence of his or her words. Would you please explore the history of this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1971 collection titled “Richard Evans’ Quote Book”. The statement was ascribed to Carl W. Buehner who was a high-level official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: 1

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner

Richard L. Evans who compiled the set of quotations was also a prominent figure in the LDS church. For more than forty years he was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. 2 Evans presented three-minute sermonettes addressing a variety of themes. 3 The book’s subtitle indicated that some material was from these broadcasts:

Selected from the “Spoken Word” and “Thought for the Day” and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They May Forget What You Said, But They Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Notes:

  1. 1971, Richard Evans’ Quote Book by Richard L. Evans, (“Selected from the ‘Spoken Word’ and ‘Thought for the Day’ and from many inspiring thought-provoking sources from many centuries”) Quote Page 244, Column 2, Publishers Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified with scans; thanks to the librarians of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah)
  2. Website: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Webpage title: History of Music and the Spoken Word, Date on website: Undated, Website description: Information about The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Accessed mormontabernaclechoir.org on April 5, 2014) link
  3. 1976, The Worth of a Smile: Spoken Words for Daily Living by J. Spencer Kinard, Section: Preface, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)