Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient” Quotes (48 Quotes)


    Could you fall in love with her if she wasn't smarter than you? I mean, she may not be smarter than you. But isn't it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love? Think now.

    If she were a writer she would collect her pencils and notebooks and favourite cat and write in bed. Strangers and lovers would never get past the locked door.



    In Canada pianos needed water. You opened up the back and left a full glass of water, and a month later the glass would be empty. Her father had told her about the dwarfs who drank only at pianos, never in bars.



    Don't we forgive everything of a lover? We forgive selfishness, desire, guile. As long as we are the motive for it...There are some European words you can never translate properly into another language.




    Kirpal's left hand swoops down and catches the dropped fork an inch from the floor and gently passes it into the fingers of his daughter, a wrinkle at the edge of his eyes behind his spectacles.

    There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lovers enter the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in a new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire.


    Maybe this is the way to come out of a war, he thinks. A burned man to care for, some sheets to wash in a fountain, a room painted like a garden.







    What he would say, he cannot say to this woman whose openness is like a wound, whose youth is not mortal yet. He cannot alter what he loves most in her, her lack of compromise, where the romance of the poems she loves still sits with ease in the real world. Outside these qualities he knows there is no order in the world.


    Moments before sleep are when she feels most alive, leaping across fragments of the day, bringing each moment into the bed with her like a child with schoolbooks and pencils. The day seems to have no order until these times, which are like a ledger for her, her body full of stories and situations.

    When we are young we do not look into mirrors. It is when we are old, concerned with our name, our legend, what our lives will mean to the future. We become vain with the names we own, our claims to have been the first eyes, the strongest army, the cleverest merchant. It is when he is old that Narcissus wants a graven image of himself.


    Nowadays he doesn't think of his wife, though he knows he can turn around and evoke every move of her, describe any aspect of her, the weigh of her wrist on his heart during the night.

    Why are you not smarter? It's only the rich who can't afford to be smart. They're compromised. They got locked years ago into privilege. They have to protect their belongings. No one is meaner than the rich. Trust me. But they have to follow the rules of their shitty civilised world. They declare war, they have honour, and they can't leave. But you two. We three. We're free.

    He knows that the only way he can accept losing her is if he can continue to hold her or be held by her. If they can somehow nurse each other out of this. Not with a wall.

    She entered the story knowing she would emerge from it feeling she had been immersed in the lives of others, in plots that stretched back twenty years, her body full of sentences and moments, as if awaking from sleep with a heaviness caused by unremembered dreams.

    Women want everything of a lover. And too often I would sink below the surface. So armies disappear under sand. And there was her fear of her husband, her belief in her honour, my old desire for self-sufficiency, my disappearances, her suspicions of me, my disbelief that she loved me. The paranoia and claustrophobia of hidden love.

    He was a man who wrote, who interpreted the world. Wisdom grew out of being handed just the smallest sliver of emotion. A glance could lead to paragraphs of theory.

    She had grown older. And he loved her more now than he had loved her when he understood her better, when she was the product of her parents. What she was now was what she herself had decided to become.

    You built your walls too, she tells him. So I have my wall. She says it glittering in a beauty he cannot stand. She with her beautiful clothes with her pale face that laughs at everyone who smiles at her...


    She is a woman of honour and smartness whose wild leaves out luck, always taking risks, and there is something in her brow now, that only she can recognize in a mirror. Ideal and idealistic in that shiny dark hair! People fall in love with her. She is a woman I don't know well enough to hold in my wing, if writers have wings, to harbour for the rest of my life.

    You have to protect yourself from sadness. Sadness is very close to hate. Let me tell you this. This is the thing I learned. If you take in someone else's poison - thinking you can cure them by sharing it - you will instead store it within you. Those men in the desert were smarter than you. They assumed he could be useful. So they saved him, but when he was no longer useful they left him.

    Her life with others no longer interests him. He wants only her stalking beauty, her theatre of expressions. He wants the minute secret reflection between them, the depth of field minimal, their foreignness intimate like two pages of a closed book.

    She lights a match in the dark hall and moves it onto the wick of the candle. Light lifts itself onto her shoulders. She is on her knees. She puts her hands on her thighs and breathes in the smell of the sulphur. She imagines she slap breathes in light.

    You must talk to me, Caravaggio. Or am I just a book? Something to be read, some creature to be tempted out of a loch and shot full of morphine, full of corridors, lies, loose vegetation, pockets of stones.


    Sometimes when she is able to spend the night with him they are wakened by the three minarets of the city beginning their prayers before dawn. He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumor of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.

    You think that you are an iconoclast, but you're not. You just move, or replace what you cannot have. If you fail at something, you retreat into something else. Nothing changes you.... I left you because I knew I could never change you. You would stand in the room so still sometimes, as if the greatest betrayal of yourself would be to reveal one more inch of your character.


    I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant who reminisces or remembers a meeting when the other has passed by innocentlyàbut all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur.

    Tell me, is it possible to love someone who is not as smart as you are? ...But isn't it important for you to think she is smarter than you in order to fall in love? ...Why is that? Because we want to know things, how the pieces fit. Talkers seduce, words direct us into corners. We want more than anything to grow and change. Brave new world.


    I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife. These are not sins of omission but signs of pre-occuopation.

    The desert could not be claimed or owned - it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East ... All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries. It was a place of faith. We disappeared into landscape.


    More Michael Ondaatje Quotations (Based on Topics)


    World - Books - Love - Time - Light - Place - Literature - Countries - Poetry - War & Peace - Honor - Writing - Man - Water - Characters - Soul - Beauty - Danger & Risk - Cities - View All Michael Ondaatje Quotations

    More Michael Ondaatje Quotations (By Book Titles)


    - The English Patient

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