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Quotations about Cities



All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim. ~Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins, 1922


Cities force growth, and make men talkative and entertaining, but they make them artificial. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


I offer my verses... chiefly to the denizens of our big Mammon-worshipping cities, in the hope that they may help to lighten the burden of "Sordid Wealth" that weighs so heavily on tens of thousands. If they should be the means of leading one here and there with a lighter heart and keener perception into Nature's fair domain—there to gather imperishable treasures from the lovely blossoms that kiss the clear brooks and mountain wells, or that smile up to us from our country lanes and bypaths—I shall have done my little to check the Nature-forgetting tendencies of city life. ~James Rigg, "Preface," Wild Flower Lyrics and Other Poems, 1897


The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of each and every town or city. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes


Towered cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men...
~John Milton


What is the city but the people? ~William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, c.1607  [III, 1, Sicinius Velutus]


The summer and the country... have no charms for me. I look forward anxiously to the return of bad weather, coal fires, and good society in a crowded city. I have no relish for the country; it is a kind of healthy grave. ~Sydney Smith, 1838


"Become corrupt, corrupt, and you will cease to suffer!" This has been the cry of all cities to man... ~Alfred de Musset, The Confession of a Child of the Century/La Confession d'un enfant du siècle, 1836, translated from French by Kendall Warren


Beyond my roofs and chimney piles
Sunset crumbles, ragged, dire;
The roaring street is hung for miles
With fierce electric fire.
Shrill and high, newsboys cry
The gross of the planet's destiny
Through one more sullen gyre.
~William Vaughn Moody, "In New York," Gloucester Moors and Other Poems, 1901


There is hardly one in three of us who live in the cities who is not sick with unused self. ~Ben Hecht


God made the country, and man made the town. ~William Cowper


The Town is merely the Country with its hat on. ~Kenneth Alfred Evelyn Alexander (c.1890–1953), in The New Zealand Railways Magazine, 1930 January 1st  [His entries were always credited "Perpetrated and Illustrated by Ken Alexander." —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Town and country, country and town,
Equally excellent sons of a noun...
~Kenneth Alfred Evelyn Alexander (c.1890–1953), in The New Zealand Railways Magazine, 1930 January 1st


I'm not a city person... I love the country, dogs, flowers and nature, and I'm very bored by cement and skyscrapers. ~Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993)


Besides, there is something about society and life in the city that oppresses me, a procedure of obliteration. The air is polluted, the backfire of cars is reminiscent of guns, and the noise is so bad you can't hear properly. ~Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993)


...the poisonous germs and pollutions of the city, its impure air and water, bad sewerage and endless nuisances... ~F. J. Groner, M.D., "Health Hints," 1889


I'm scared of it all, God's truth! so I am;
It's too big and brutal for me.
My nerve's on the raw and I don't give a damn
For all the "hoorah" that I see.
I'm pinned between the subway and overhead train,
Where automobiles swoop down:
Oh, I want to go back to the timber again —
I'm scared of the terrible town.
~Robert W. Service, "I'm Scared of It All," 1912


There is a great renaissance going on. The flood of brains and imagination from the country to the cities is being stemmed — and a gradually increasing trickle is running in the opposite direction. ~John Seymour, 1977


I watched the bright lights flicker by, so beautiful — the glow, the buildings of downtown peeking out, the city sharp and crisp, all the dirt and age hidden by the night. ~Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain, 2008  [Bellevue, Medina, Seattle. A little altered. —tg]


A city is a large community where people are lonesome together. ~Herbert V. Prochnow


On numerous visits to Manhattan, I have found myself poking around the city trying to find a moment of quiet and once located a hint of it in Central Park during a windless, late-night snowfall. There I stood absolutely still in the lemon glow of the city, a sky full of snow. The city still roared from all sides, a thousand noises compressed down to just one. I counted that distant, mild roar as quiet, a welcome relief from the more pressing noises of the daytime city. ~Craig Childs, "Perfect Quiet: Searching for refuge — and, perhaps, health — in a sickeningly loud world," 2009 June 25th, Pacific Standard: The Science of Society


      I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy "the sweet security of streets." The excitement of the crowd is pleasant to me. I find sermons in the stones of the pavement, and in the continuous sound of voices and wheels and footsteps hear the "sad music of humanity"... The green earth, and the air, and the sea, all living and all lifeless things, preach the gospel of a good providence; but most of all does man, in his crowded cities, and in his manifold powers and wants and passions and deeds, preach this same gospel... Architecture, and painting, and sculpture, and music, and epic poems, and all the forms of art, wherein the hand of genius is visible, please me evermore... And thus my sympathies are with men, and streets, and city gates, and towers from which the great bells sound solemnly and slow, and cathedral doors, where venerable statues, holding books in their hands, look down like sentinels upon the church-going multitude, and the birds of the air come and build their nests in the arms of saints and apostles.
      And more than all this, in great cities we learn to look the world in the face. We shake hands with stern realities... ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Great Metropolis," 1837


High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
Of human cities torture...
~Lord Byron


In the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time. ~W. Somerset Maugham, 1900


Don't let the city steal your soul. ~Terri Guillemets


To one who has been long in city pent,
'T is very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven,—to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament...
~John Keats (1795–1821)


Men are made not to be crowded into anthills but to be dispersed over the earth, which they should cultivate; the more they come together, the more they are corrupted, the infirmities of the body, as well as the vices of the soul, are the unfailing effect of this overcrowding. Cities are the abyss of the human species... Send your children... to regain in the midst of the fields the vigor that is lost in the unhealthy air of cities. ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), translated by Christopher Kelly, 2009


At Rome you long for the country; when you are in the country, ever fickle, you extol the absent city to the skies. ~Horace (65–8 BCE), translated literally into English prose by Christopher Smart, 1793





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