Tag Archives: William Butler Yeats

There Are No Strangers Here; Only Friends You Haven’t Yet Met

William Butler Yeats? Will Rogers? Edgar Guest? Margaret Lee Runbeck? Dorothy C. Wegner? Roberta Lieberman? Mitch Albom? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Nobel Prize winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats often receives credit for the following sentiment:

There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.

Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive support for the linkage to Yeats. The popular poet Edgar Guest included a similar statement in a widely distributed 1915 poem called “Faith”. Here are the first two verses. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I believe in the world and its bigness and splendor,
That most of the hearts beating round us are tender;
That days are but footsteps and years are but miles
That lead us to beauty and singing and smiles;
That roses that blossom and toilers that plod
Are filled with the glorious spirit of God.

I believe in the purpose of everything living,
That taking is but the forerunner of giving;
That strangers are friends that we some day may meet,
And not all the bitter can equal the sweet;
That creeds are but colors, and no man has said
That God loves the yellow rose more than the red.

The Davenport Democrat” of Iowa and other newspapers reprinted Guest’s work with an acknowledgement to “The Detroit Free Press” of Michigan. 2

QI conjectures that the quotation evolved from the line written by Guest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1915 August 19, The Boston Globe, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1915 August 22, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 11, Column 6, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Do Not Wait To Strike Till the Iron Is Hot; But Make It Hot By Striking

William Butler Yeats? William B. Sprague? Benjamin Franklin? Richard Sharp? Charles Lamb? Charles Caleb Colton? Oliver Cromwell? Peleg Sprague? Ernest Hemingway? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular proverb highlights the limited duration of an opportunity:

Strike while the iron is hot.

This metaphor has been astutely extended with advice for greater challenges:

Make the iron hot by striking.

This full metaphor has been credited to the English military leader Oliver Cromwell, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and the American novelist Ernest Hemingway. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The basic proverb appeared in one of “The Canterbury Tales” called “The Tale of Melibeus” by Geoffrey Chaucer written in the latter half of the 1300s. Here is the original spelling together with a modern rendition. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

…whil that iren is hoot men scholden smyte…
…while the iron is hot men should smite…

The earliest full match known to QI appeared in a 1782 letter from the famous statesman Benjamin Franklin to Reverend Richard Price about using the press to spread ideas. The letter was included in “Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price” published in 1815: 2

The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights in newspapers which are every where read, gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find, that it is not only right to strike while the iron is hot, but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1860, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Edited by Thomas Wright, The Tale of Melibeus, Start Page 150, Quote Page 152, Richard Griffin and Company, London and Glasgow. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1815, Memoirs of the Life of The Rev. Richard Price by William Morgan, Volume 5, (Letter within footnote), Letter from: Benjamin Franklin, Letter to: Richard Price, Letter date: June 13, 1782, Start Page 95, Quote Page 96, Printed for R. Hunter, Successor to J. Johnson, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Culture Does Not Consist in Acquiring Opinions, But in Getting Rid of Them

William Butler Yeats? Leonard A. G. Strong? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Too often classes in literature and the arts simply provide an encyclopedic recitation of previous opinions on a topic. The Nobel-Prize-winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats made a provocative remark about the desirability of getting rid of opinions. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: William Butler Yeats died in 1939. The literary journal “London Magazine” in 1955 printed “Yeats at His Ease” by critic and publisher Leonard A. G. Strong who was a long-time friend of the poet. Yeats came to live at Oxford in 1919, and Strong says that he was productive and happy there. The remark under examination was overheard by Strong. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Yeats in my hearing remarked to two English dons, ‘I can’t see what you think you are achieving. You seem to be busy with the propagation of second and third and fourth hand opinions upon literature. Culture does not consist in acquiring opinions, but in getting rid of them.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1955 March, The London Magazine: A Monthly Review of Literature, Volume 2, Number 3, Yeats at His Ease by L. A. G. Strong (Leonard Alfred George Strong), Start Page 56, Quote Page 57, Chatto & Windus, Ltd, London. (Verified with hardcopy)

I Am the Civilization You Are Fighting For

George Bernard Shaw? William Butler Yeats? Anonymous? H. W. Garrod? Lord Dunsany? Lytton Strachey?

britmuseum08Dear Quote Investigator: While the First World War was raging an unhappy woman approached a famous British scholar and poet and rebuked him for not enlisting. She stated emphatically that young men were fighting and dying to defend civilization. Here are two versions of sage’s response:

1) But Madam, I am the civilization for which they are fighting.
2) Are you aware, Madam, that I am the civilization for which they are dying?

In the version of the tale I was told the riposte was delivered by the Oxford classical scholar H. W. Garrod. But other possibilities have been mentioned, e.g., Lytton Strachey and Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this story located by QI was published in August 1914 in a London periodical called “The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art”. The disparager was a soldier, and the respondent was an unnamed artist. The passage below employed the British variant spelling for “civilisation” with an “s” instead of a “z”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I heard another good retort of an artist upon a volunteer who reproached him for not enlisting. I, he said, am the civilisation you are fighting for.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1914 August 20, “The New Age: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature and Art”, Volume 15, Observations and Reflections by A.B.C., (short filler-type item), Quote Page 379, Column 1, Published by New Age Press, Limited, London. (Verified with page images from brown.edu)

The Best Lack All Conviction While the Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity

William Butler Yeats? Bertrand Russell? Charles Bukowski?

doubt11Dear Quote Investigator: Have you ever been absolutely certain about a fact and later determined that you were completely wrong? If you learn from that experience you become less arrogant and more empathetic. I wish more people would achieve this form of personal growth. Here are three versions of a relevant saying:

The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.

This thought has been linked to the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet W. B. Yeats, the prominent British philosopher Bertrand Russell, and the notable American writer Charles Bukowski. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The three individuals you mentioned each expressed different versions of this idea, and detailed citations are given below.

In 1920 W. B. Yeats published the poem “The Second Coming”, and the final two lines of the first section presented an instance of the saying. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Date: 1920 November, Periodical: The Dial, Article Title: Ten Poems, Poem: The Second Coming, Author: William Butler Yeats, Quote Page: 466, Publisher: The Dial Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Mind Is Not a Vessel That Needs Filling, But Wood That Needs Igniting

William Butler Yeats? Plutarch? Socrates? Plato? Apocryphal?

yeatsplutarch03Dear Quote Investigator: There is a superb quotation about education that I have encountered many times. Here is a collection of examples with attributions that I have been accumulating. None of the examples came with citations:

  • Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel —Socrates
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —William Butler Yeats
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —Plutarch
  • The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. —Plutarch

What do you think? Who should properly be given credit, and what was the original statement? It is embarrassing to find that even educators who should be sensitized to the problems of improper or non-existent citations are sometimes careless. But my criticism is muted because determining a proper ascription can be difficult, as your website illustrates.

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Socrates or William Butler Yeats produced one of these sayings. These two attributions apparently are incorrect.

This family of statements probably originated with a passage in the essay “On Listening” in Moralia by the Greek-born philosopher Plutarch who lived between 50 and 120 AD. 1 The following excerpt was translated by Robin Waterfield for a 1992 Penguin Classics edition. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbours for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his innate flame, his own intellect, …

Here is an alternative translation of the first sentence published in the 1927 Loeb Classical Library edition: 3

For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2008, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn, (2nd revised edition), Entry: Plutarch, Oxford University Press, (Accessed Online Oxford Reference on March 28, 2013)
  2. 1992, Essays by Plutarch, Translation by Robin Waterfield, On Listening, Quote Page 50, Penguin Classics, London and New York. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1927, Moralia by Plutarch, Volume 1 of the Loeb Classical Library edition, “De auditu” by Plutarch, (“On Listening to Lectures”), Webpage maintained by Bill Thayer. (QI has not verified this text on paper) (Accessed penelope.uchicago.edu on March 28, 2013) link

The Universe Is Full of Magical Things Patiently Waiting for Our Wits to Grow Sharper

Bertrand Russell? William Butler Yeats? Eden Phillpotts? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I adore the following quotation which is attributed to the philosopher Bertrand Russell:

The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

But recently I saw a different version in which two words had been changed:

The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

This saying was credited to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Now my confidence that either of these prominent intellectuals fashioned this quote has been diminished. Can you clear up the confusion?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Russell or Yeats created this saying. QI believes that the original statement was crafted by an English author and playwright named Eden Phillpotts who used the word “universe” instead of “world” [SPEP]:

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

The best-known works by Phillpotts were part of a series set in Dartmoor, England. He was praised for writing convincing West Country dialect, sympathetic rural characters, and accurate descriptions of topography. He also wrote a popular and long-running play called “The Farmer’s Wife” [OXEP].

The quote appeared in a 1919 book titled “A Shadow Passes” that contained a collection of vignettes depicting scenes in nature. Phillpotts noted that a magnifying lens could heighten visual acuity such that the perceived beauty of some plants would be enhanced. The passage that included the saying was about the plant species Menyanthes trifoliate which is commonly known as buckbean [SPEP]:

In the marshes the buckbean has lifted its feathery mist of flower spikes above the bed of trefoil leaves. The fimbriated flowers are a miracle of workmanship and every blossom exhibits an exquisite disorder of ragged petals finer than lace. But one needs a lens to judge of their beauty: it lies hidden from the power of our eyes, and menyanthes must have bloomed and passed a million times before there came any to perceive and salute her loveliness. The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

The phrase “wits to grow sharper” referred to the development of sufficient knowledge by mankind to create and use a magnifying lens to reveal the splendor of the buckbean. Phillpotts was suggesting that there are many other “magical things” that will be revealed in the future as our knowledge and capabilities grow.

This post continues with the conclusion, acknowledgment, and bibliographical notes.

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