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date: 12 April 2024

The Past 

  1. Even a god cannot change the past.
    literally, ‘The one thing which even God cannot do is to make undone what has been done’
    Agathon b. c.445 bc Greek tragic poet: Aristotle Nicomachaean Ethics bk. 6
  2. In every age ‘the good old days’ were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them.
    Brooks Atkinson 1894–1984 American journalist and critic: Once Around the Sun (1951)
  3. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
    Jane Austen 1775–1817 English novelist: Pride and Prejudice (1813) ch. 58
  4. Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
    And is there honey still for tea?
    Rupert Brooke 1887–1915 English poet: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ (1915)
  5. For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.
    Winston Churchill 1874–1965 British Conservative statesman, Prime Minister 1940–5, 1951–5: speech in the House of Commons, 23 January 1948
  6. We cannot reform our forefathers.
    George Eliot 1819–80 English novelist: Adam Bede (1859) ch. 53
  7. The past is never dead. It's not even past.
    William Faulkner 1897–1962 American novelist: Requiem for a Nun (1951) act 1
  8. The moving finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
    Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
    Edward Fitzgerald 1809–83 English scholar and poet: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859) st. 51; ‘all your tears’ in 4th ed. (1879) st. 71
  9. It is not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language…we must never cease renewing those images; because once we do, we fossilize.
    Brian Friel 1929–2015 Irish dramatist: Translations (1980)
  10. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
    L. P. Hartley 1895–1972 English novelist: The Go-Between (1953) prologue; see Morley
  11. By despising all that has preceded us, we teach others to despise ourselves.
    William Hazlitt 1778–1830 English essayist: ‘On Reading New Books’ in Monthly Magazine 1827
  12. Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
    What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?
    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.
    A. E. Housman 1859–1936 English poet: A Shropshire Lad (1896) no. 40
  13. O God! Put back Thy universe and give me yesterday.
    Henry Arthur Jones 1851–1929 and Henry Herman 1832–94: The Silver King (1907) act 2, sc. 4
  14. Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
    Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
    Oh I believe in yesterday.
    John Lennon 1940–80 and Paul McCartney 1942– : ‘Yesterday’ (1965 song)
  15. Think of it, soldiers; from the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you.
    before the Battle of the Pyramids
    Napoleon I 1769–1821 French monarch, emperor 1804–15: speech to the Army of Egypt on 21 July 1798
  16. Things ain't what they used to be.
    Ted Persons: title of song (1941)
  17. The glory that was Greece
    And the grandeur that was Rome.
    Edgar Allan Poe 1809–49 American writer: ‘To Helen’ (1831)
  18. I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
    Carl Sandburg 1878–1967 American poet: ‘Prairie’ (1918)
  19. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    George Santayana 1863–1952 Spanish-born philosopher and critic: The Life of Reason (1905) vol. 1, ch. 12
  20. O! call back yesterday, bid time return.
    William Shakespeare 1564–1616 English dramatist: Richard II (1595) act 3, sc. 2, l. 69 (Oxford Standard Authors ed.)
  21. People who are always praising the past
    And especially the times of faith as best
    Ought to go and live in the Middle Ages
    And be burnt at the stake as witches and sages.
    Stevie Smith 1902–71 English poet and novelist: ‘The Past’ (1957)
  22. The present enables us to understand the past, not the other way round.
    A. J. P. Taylor 1906–90 British historian: The Troublemakers: Dissent over British Foreign Policy, 1792–1939 (1957)
  23. The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.
    Edward Thomas 1878–1917 English poet: ‘Early one morning in May I set out’ (1917)
  24. Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
    But where are the snows of yesteryear?
    François Villon c.1431– after 63 French poet: Le Grand Testament (1461) ‘Ballade des dames du temps jadis’ (tr. D. G. Rossetti)
  25. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
    Billy Wilder 1906–2002 American screenwriter and director: J. R. Columbo Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979) ch. 7