We need to distinguish between nostalgia and the reassuring memory of happy times, which serves to link the present to the past and to provide a sense of continuity. The emotional appeal of happy memories does not depend on disparagement of the The Present hallmark of the nostalgic attitude. Nostalgia appeals to the feeling that the past offered delights no longer obtainable. Nostalgic representations of the past evoke a time irretrievably lost and for that reason timeless and unchanging. Strictly speaking, nostalgia does not entail the exercise of memory at all, since the past it idealizes stands outside time, frozen in unchanging perfection. Memory too may idealize the past, but not in order to condemn the present. It draws hope and comfort from the past in order to enrich the present and to face what comes with good cheer.
—Christopher Lasch (1932–94) American Historian, Moralist, Social Critic
The past is a bucket of ashes, so live not in your yesterdays, nor just for tomorrow, but in the here and now. Keep moving and forget the post-mortems. And remember, no one can get the jump on the future.
—Carl Sandburg (1878–1967) American Biographer, Novelist, Socialist
Man… cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past: however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.
—Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) German Philosopher, Scholar, Writer
To design the future effectively, you must first let go of your past.
—Charles J. Givens (1941–98) American Self-Help Writer
God gave us memory that we might have roses in December.
—J. M. Barrie (1860–1937) Scottish Novelist, Dramatist, Author
Everyone knows the usefulness of the useful, but n o one knows the usefulness of the useless.
—Zhuang Zhou (369BCE–286BCE) Chinese Philosopher
Our ignorance of history makes us libel to our own times. People have always been like this.
—Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) French Novelist, Playwright, Short Story Writer
The past always looks better than it was; it’s only pleasant because it isn’t here.
—Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936) American Author, Writer, Humorist
One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it. To remain in touch with the past requires a love of memory. To remain in touch with the past requires a constant imaginative effort.
—Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) French Philosopher, Psychoanalyst, Poet
I never look back, I look forward.
—Steffi Graf (b.1969) German Tennis Player, Philanthropist
Think of your forefathers! Think of your posterity.
—John Adams (1735–1826) American Head of State, Lawyer
The past but lives in written words: a thousand ages were blank if books had not evoked their ghosts, and kept the pale unbodied shades to warn us from fleshless lips.
—Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803–73) British Novelist, Poet, Politician
The past is at least secure.
—Daniel Webster (1782–1852) American Statesman, Lawyer
To be able to look back upon one’s past life with satisfaction is to live twice.
—Martial (40–104) Ancient Roman Latin Poet
The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past.
—Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927–2014) Colombian Novelist, Short-Story Writer
The past should be a springboard, not a hammock.
—Ivern Ball (1926–92) American Writer, Aphorist
The past is only the present become invisible and mute; and because it is invisible and mute, its memorized glances and its murmurs are infinitely precious. We are tomorrow’s past.
—Mary Webb (1881–1927) English Novelist, Poet, Writer
The past grows gradually around one, like a placenta for dying.
—John Berger (1926–2017) English Art Critic, Novelist
Yesterday is a cancelled check; tomorrow is a promissory note; today is the only cash you have — so spend it wisely.
There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the Best as the past withdraws.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) German Poet
In the maxim of the past you cannot go anywhere.
—Maxim Gorky (1868–1936) Russian Writer, Dramatist, Political Activist, Novelist
Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.
—Oprah Winfrey (b.1954) American TV Personality
A man’s memory may almost become the art of continually varying and misrepresenting his past, according to his interest in the present.
—George Santayana (1863–1952) Spanish Philosopher
Clinging to the past is the problem. Embracing change is the answer.
—Gloria Steinem (b.1934) American Feminist, Journalist, Social Activist, Political Activist
The moments of the past do not remain still; they retain in our memory the motion which drew them towards the future, towards a future which has itself become the past, and draw us on in their train.
—Marcel Proust (1871–1922) French Novelist
Look back, and smile at perils past.
—Walter Scott (1771–1832) Scottish Novelist, Poet, Playwright, Lawyer
The people who get into trouble in our company are those who carry around the anchor of the past.
—Jack Welch (b.1935) American Businessperson
The illusion that times that were are better than those that are has probably pervaded all ages.
—Horace Greeley (1811–72) American Elected Rep, Politician, Reformer, Editor
Oh, this age! How tasteless and ill-bred it is.
—Catullus (84–54 BCE) Roman Latin Poet
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
—George Orwell (1903–50) English Novelist, Journalist
The people who live in the past must yield to the people who live in the future. Otherwise the world would begin to turn the other way round.
—Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) British Novelist
To yackety-yak about the past is for me time lost. Every morning I wake up saying, ‘I’m still alive — a miracle.’ And so I keep on pushing.
—Jacques Cousteau (1910–97) French Military Leader, Explore, Ecologist, Scientist, Photographer
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The free world must not prove itself worthy of its own past.
—Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) American Head of State, Military Leader
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.
—Frederick Douglass (1817–95) American Abolitionist, Author, Editor, Diplomat, Political leader
The future is an unknown, but a somewhat predictable unknown. To look to the future we must first look back upon the past. That is where the seeds of the future were planted. I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.
—Albert Einstein (1879–1955) German-born Physicist
Mr. Meant-to has a friend, his name is Didn’t-Do. Have you met them? They live together in a house called Never-Win. And I am told that it is haunted by the Ghost of Might-have-Been.
—Marva Collins (b.1936) American Educator
The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to an idealised past.
—Robertson Davies (1913–95) Canada Journalist, Playwright, Academic, Critic, Novelist
The general thrust these days is: Oh, come on, it’s all in the past, nobody’s interested any more, it didn’t work, everyone knows what the Americans are like, but stop being naive, this is the world, there’s nothing to be done about it and anyway fuck it, who cares? But let me put it this way-the dead are still looking at us, waiting for us to acknowledge our part in their murder.
—Harold Pinter (1930–2008) British Playwright
If the past cannot teach the present and the father cannot teach the son, then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time.
—Russell Hoban (b.1925) American Children’s Books Writer, Novelist, Writer
Study the past, if you would define the future.
—Confucius (551–479 BCE) Chinese Philosopher
The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.
—Henri Bergson (1859–1941) French Philosopher, Author