- Even a god cannot change the past.
literally, ‘The one thing which even God cannot do is to make undone what has been done’
c.445 bc Greek tragic poet: Aristotle Nicomachaean Ethics bk. 6 b.
- 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.
Once Around the Sun (1951) 1894–1984 American journalist and critic:
- Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
Pride and Prejudice (1813) ch. 58 1775–1817 English novelist:
- Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
1887–1915 English poet: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ (1915)
- 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. 1874–1965 British Conservative statesman, Prime Minister 1940–5, 1951–5: speech in the House of Commons, 23 January 1948
- We cannot reform our forefathers.
Adam Bede (1859) ch. 53 1819–80 English novelist:
- The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Requiem for a Nun (1951) act 1 1897–1962 American novelist:
- 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.
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859) st. 51; ‘all your tears’ in 4th ed. (1879) st. 71 1809–83 English scholar and poet:
- 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.
Translations (1980) 1929–2015 Irish dramatist:
- The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
The Go-Between (1953) prologue; see Morley 1895–1972 English novelist:
- By despising all that has preceded us, we teach others to despise ourselves.
Monthly Magazine 1827 1778–1830 English essayist: ‘On Reading New Books’ in
- 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 Shropshire Lad (1896) no. 40 1859–1936 English poet:
- O God! Put back Thy universe and give me yesterday.
The Silver King (1907) act 2, sc. 4 1851–1929 and 1832–94:
- Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
Now it looks as though they're here to stay.
Oh I believe in yesterday.
1940–80 and 1942– : ‘Yesterday’ (1965 song)
- Think of it, soldiers; from the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you.
before the Battle of the Pyramids 1769–1821 French monarch, emperor 1804–15: speech to the Army of Egypt on 21 July 1798
- Things ain't what they used to be.: title of song (1941)
- The glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.
1809–49 American writer: ‘To Helen’ (1831)
- I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes.
1878–1967 American poet: ‘Prairie’ (1918)
- Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The Life of Reason (1905) vol. 1, ch. 12 1863–1952 Spanish-born philosopher and critic:
- O! call back yesterday, bid time return.
Richard II (1595) act 3, sc. 2, l. 69 (Oxford Standard Authors ed.) 1564–1616 English dramatist:
- 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.
1902–71 English poet and novelist: ‘The Past’ (1957)
- The present enables us to understand the past, not the other way round.
The Troublemakers: Dissent over British Foreign Policy, 1792–1939 (1957) 1906–90 British historian:
- The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.
1878–1917 English poet: ‘Early one morning in May I set out’ (1917)
- Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
But where are the snows of yesteryear?
c.1431– after 63 French poet: Le Grand Testament (1461) ‘Ballade des dames du temps jadis’ (tr. D. G. Rossetti)
- Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.
Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers (1979) ch. 7 1906–2002 American screenwriter and director: J. R. Columbo