Helen Adams Keller was an American writer and social activist; an illness (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis) at the age of 19 months left her deaf and blind.
- One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.
- I want to say to those who are trying to learn to speak and those who are teaching them: Be of good cheer. Do not think of to-day's failures, but of the success that may come to-morrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere, and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles — a delight in climbing rugged paths, which you would perhaps never know if you did not sometime slip backward — if the road was always smooth and pleasant. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost. Sometime, somewhere, somehow we shall find that which we seek. We shall speak, yes, and sing, too, as God intended we should speak and sing.
- Address to the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf at Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (8 July 1896)
- The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart. We sightless children had the best of eyes that day in our hearts and in our finger-tips. We were glad from the child's necessity of being happy. The blind who have outgrown the child's perpetual joy can be children again on Christmas Day and celebrate in the midst of them who pipe and dance and sing a new song!
- "Christmas in the Dark" in Ladies Home Journal (December 1906)
- The bulk of the world’s knowledge is an imaginary construction.
- The Five-sensed World (1910)
- We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond the senses.
- The Five-sensed World (1910)
- The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important, than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.
- Letter to Dr. James Kerr Love (1910), published in Helen Keller in Scotland: a personal record written by herself (1933), edited by James Kerr Love. Paraphrasing of this statement may have been the origin of a similar one which has become attributed to her:
- Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.
- See also FAQ at Gallaudet University
- Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.
- When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
- We Beareved (1929)
- Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.
- Let Us Have Faith (1940)
- Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
- The Open Door (1957) This quotation is often contracted into: Security is mostly a superstition... Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. or paraphrased: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
- I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.
- Quoted in Henry More: The Rational Theology of a Cambridge Plattonist (1962) by Aharon Lichtenstein, page 100.
- Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee . . . You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?
- Quoted in A People's History of the United States (1980) page 345.
- Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.
The Story of My Life (1903)
- The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.
- Ch. 4
- Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was. "Light! give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
- Ch. 4
- We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me.
- Ch. 4
- I had now the key to all language, and I was eager to learn to use it. Children who hear acquire language without any particular effort; the words that fall from others' lips they catch on the wing, as it were, delightedly, while the little deaf child must trap them by a slow and often painful process. But whatever the process, the result is wonderful. Gradually from naming an object we advance step by step until we have traversed the vast distance between our first stammered syllable and the sweep of thought in a line of Shakespeare.
- Ch. 6
- I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to kiss me: but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen."
"What is love?" I asked.
She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.
I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"
"No," said my teacher.
Again I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.
"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction from which the heat came. "Is this not love?"
It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.
- Ch. 6
- Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphasis, "Think."
In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.
For a long time I was still ... trying to find a meaning for "love" in the light of this new idea. The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been brief showers; but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendour.
Again I asked my teacher, "Is this not love?"
"Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came out," she replied. Then in simpler words than these, which at that time I could not have understood, she explained:
"You cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play."
The beautiful truth burst upon my mind — I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.
- Ch. 6
- Ruth is so loyal and gentle-hearted, we cannot help loving her, as she stands with the reapers amid the waving corn. Her beautiful, unselfish spirit shines out like a bright star in the night of a dark and cruel age. Love like Ruth's, love which can rise above conflicting creeds and deep-seated racial prejudices, is hard to find in all the world.
- Ch. 21
- The Bible gives me a deep, comforting sense that "things seen are temporal and things unseen are eternal."
- Ch. 21
- I do not remember a time since I have been capable of loving books that I have not loved Shakespeare.
- Ch. 21
- I read "King Lear" soon after "Macbeth," and I shall never forget the feeling of horror when I came to the scene in which Gloster's eyes are put out. Anger seized me, my fingers refused to move, I sat rigid for one long moment, the blood throbbing in my temples, and all the hatred that a child can feel concentrated in my heart.
- Ch. 21
- Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. The things I have learned and the things I have been taught seem of ridiculously little importance compared with their "large loves and heavenly charities."
- Ch. 21
- If it is true that the violin is the most perfect of musical instruments, then Greek is the violin of human thought.
- Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901) TO MRS. LAURENCE HUTTON Wrentham, February 20, 1898.
- No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is, he feels that happiness is his indisputable right.
- It is curious to observe what different ideals of happiness people cherish, and in what singular places they look for this well-spring of their life. Many look for it in the hoarding of riches, some in the pride of power, and others in the achievements of art and literature; a few seek it in the exploration of their own minds, or in search for knowledge.
- Most people measure their happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they could be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep. If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, — if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing.
- Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. My life was without past or future; death, the pessimist would say, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought, and love and joy and hope came up in a passion of obedience to knowledge. Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
- It is a mistake always to contemplate the good and ignore the evil, because by making people neglectful it lets in disaster. There is a dangerous optimism of ignorance and indifference.
- Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and every one, and make that Best a part of my life.
- I, too, can work, and because I love to labor with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all. I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless.
- I understand how it was possible for Spinoza to find deep and sustained happiness when he was excommunicated, poor, despised and suspected alike by Jew and Christian; not that the kind world of men ever treated me so, but that his isolation from the universe of sensuous joys is somewhat analogous to mine. He loved the good for its own sake. Like many great spirits he accepted his place in the world, and confided himself childlike to a higher power, believing that it worked through his hands and predominated in his being. He trusted implicitly, and that is what I do. Deep, solemn optimism, it seems to me, should spring from this firm belief in the presence of God in the individual; not a remote, unapproachable governor of the universe, but a God who is very near every one of us, who is present not only in earth, sea and sky, but also in every pure and noble impulse of our hearts, 'the source and centre of all minds, their only point of rest.'
- To know the history of philosophy is to know that the highest thinkers of the ages, the seers of the tribes and the nations, have been optimists. The growth of philosophy is the story of man's spiritual life.
- The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principal of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.
- I see the clouds part slowly, and I hear a cry of protest against the bigot. The restraining hand of tolerance is laid upon the inquisitor, and the humanist utters a message of peace to the persecuted. Instead of the cry, "Burn the heretic!" men study the human soul with sympathy, and there enters into their hearts a new reverence for that which is unseen.
- The idea of brotherhood redawns upon the world with a broader significance than the narrow association of members in a sect or creed; and thinkers of great soul like Lessing challenge the world to say which is more godlike, the hatred and tooth-and-nail grapple of conflicting religions, or sweet accord and mutual helpfulness. Ancient prejudice of man against his brother-man wavers and retreats before the radiance of a more generous sentiment, which will not sacrifice men to forms, or rob them of the comfort and strength they find in their own beliefs. The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next. Mere tolerance has given place to a sentiment of brotherhood between sincere men of all denominations.
- The test of all beliefs is their practical effect in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy.
- Let pessimism once take hold of the mind, and life is all topsy-turvy, all vanity and vexation of spirit. There is no cure for individual or social disorder, except in forgetfulness and annihilation. "Let us eat, drink and be merry," says the pessimist, "for to-morrow we die." If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
- Who shall dare let his incapacity for hope or goodness cast a shadow upon the courage of those who bear their burdens as if they were privileges?
- We have found that our great philosophers and our great men of action are optimists. So, too, our most potent men of letters have been optimists in their books and in their lives. No pessimist ever won an audience commensurately wide with his genius, and many optimistic writers have been read and admired out of all measure to their talents, simply because they wrote of the sunlit side of life.
- Every optimist moves along with progress and hastens it, while every pessimist would keep the worlds at a standstill. The consequence of pessimism in the life of a nation is the same as in the life of the individual. Pessimism kills the instinct that urges men to struggle against poverty, ignorance and crime, and dries up all the fountains of joy in the world.
- Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.
- I believe it is a sacred duty to encourage ourselves and others; to hold the tongue from any unhappy word against God's world, because no man has any right to complain of a universe which God made good, and which thousands of men have striven to keep good. I believe we should so act that we may draw nearer and more near the age when no man shall live at his ease while another suffers. These are the articles of my faith, and there is yet another on which all depends — to bear this faith above every tempest which overfloods it, and to make it a principal in disaster and through affliction. Optimism is the harmony between man's spirit and of God pronouncing His works good.
Three Days to See (1933)
- Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. “Nothing in particular,” she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.
How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter’s sleep. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable convolutions; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me.
The Simplest Way to be Happy (1933)
- Happiness is the final and perfect fruit of obedience to the laws of life.
- A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.
- It all comes to this: the simplest way to be happy is to do good.
- If we spend the time we waste in sighing for the perfect golden fruit in fulfilling the conditions of its growth, happiness will come, must come. It is guaranteed in the very laws of the universe. If it involves some chastening and renunciation, well, the fruit will be all the sweeter for this touch of holiness.
- Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.
- I am only one, but I am one. I can not do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.
- Edward Everett Hale in Ten Times One is Ten (1870). Keller and Hale were quite close, letters to Hale can be found in her youthful autobiography The Story of My Life (1902). In 1910 Keller dedicated her poem "The Song of the Stone Wall" to Hale who had died in 1909.
Quotations about Keller
- In this child I have seen more of the Divine than has been manifest in anyone I met before.
- Alexander Graham Bell
- The greatest woman of our age.
- Winston Churchill
- She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die. Her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.
- Eulogy by Senator J. Lister Hill of Alabama
- Whatever you were or are, you're a blessing!
- William James
- The two greatest characters in the 19th century are Napoleon and Helen Keller. Napoleon tried to conquer the world by physical force and failed. Helen tried to conquer the world by power of mind — and succeeded!
- Mark Twain
- You are a wonderful creature — the most wonderful in the world.
- Mark Twain to Helen Keller.
- Helen Keller is fellow to Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, Homer, Shakespeare, and the rest of the immortals... She will be as famous a thousand years from now as she is today.
- Mark Twain
- No history of the world can be complete which does not mention Mary Helen Keller... whose overcoming of her blindness and deafness were arguably victories more important than those of Alexander the Great, because they have implications still for every living person.
- Theodore Zeldin in An Intimate History of Humanity (1994) This quote seems to obviously refer to Helen Adams Keller, but why he refers to her as "Mary Helen Keller" is not clear.
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