A Selection of Aphorisms

By Yahia Lababidi

June 2012

Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, I was surrounded by a love of language. Wit was sport, and a kind of national pastime, at the time of my youth. Which is to say, people spoke in sayings and proverbs served as street poetry as well as philosophy-for-the-masses. As I became an aphorist myself, and decided to move to America, I recognized that Art was the finest form of cultural diplomacy I could offer. Past any specificities of culture, religion, age or gender, art was able to cut to the heart of our shared humanity. This universality is what I had valued most in proverbs, and now sought to emulate in my own aphorisms.


Aphorisms are the echoes of our silences.

Artists are like mystics, they lower their buckets deep into our communal well to retrieve what we thirst for.

There is a species of literature–poetry, especially–that aspires towards a form of sacred text.

Poetry is never a personal enterprise; a poet sings for those who cannot.

Poems are like bodies; a fraction of their power resides in their skin. The rest belongs to the spirit that swims through them.

Ideas dress themselves, writers are just the helpless tailors.

Every secret wants to be told; cultivate the art of listening.

To evolve means we’ve been listening.

Roots: how trees and humans are stitched to earth and life.

We are here to remind each other.

Where there are demons, there is something precious worth fighting for.

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Our morality is determined by the level of immorality that we can afford to live with.

Strange, how our weaknesses can be strengths in disguise, and vice versa.

When we think we are arguing with others, we are usually arguing with ourselves.

Philosopher as outsider: how else to evaluate the play – onstage, alongside other actors?

The artist must cultivate a certain distance so that they might lend their vision to those in the thick of historic events.

Knowledge is amoral, it can lead to wisdom or astray. Yet, wisdom entails moral knowledge.

Heaven save us from tragic seriousness; teach us to play, divinely.

Buoyancy of the human spirit in the face of turbulence is the source of the miraculous

Those for whom the natural is extraordinary, tend to find the extraordinary natural.

Pets: proof positive that communication, and love, are not dependent on language.

There is such a thing as spiritual deformity, a kink in the soul that keeps us from loving straight.

We make daily negotiations with others just to keep alive -whether having sex, or crossing the street.

There are many ways to donate blood, writing is one.

The problem with being full of yourself is that you cannot fill up with much else.

There is something inherently tragic where either power or greatness are concerned.

The health of a society may be measured by the extent of its sickest members, and their numbers.

Superstitions: other people’s traditions.

Ego: the baby rattle that becomes a snake rattle, if challenged.

For those who discount dreams, consider this: relationships might be initiated, or terminated,
while we sleep.

Writer’s compassion: imagining the lives of strangers.

Compassion and contempt are not compatible.

If we care for ourselves, we may turn our pain into gifts for others. If we do not care for our
souls, we become a burden for others.

The Stockholm Syndrome begins at home.

Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it–hence, the tragedy of families.

Art is the longest lasting pain-killer.

The seduction of social media: a taste of omniscience.

Nevermind porn, ambition without talent is the true obscenity.

The best, and worst, type of person is one possessed by a Mission.

Sensationalism always simplifies, and provokes emotions rather than thought.

How militaries are a little like organized pedophilia: corrupt elders seducing the young, abusing their minds and bodies, then discarding them afterwards.

However bad you think it is, it’s not the end of the world; we don’t even know that the end of the world is.

Our life is like a long day; it’s easier to fall sleep, if we have remained awake.

Rigidity is the need to conclude; let the last sentence of your soul stand open-ended…

Yahia Lababidi is an Egyptian-born poet and essayist, currently living in the United States. He is the author of two critically-acclaimed books: Signposts to Elsewhere–a Book of the Year, 2008, The Independent (UK)–and Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing.


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Written and Edited by Yahia Lababidi

Photography Courtesy of Yahia Lababidi

Design by Marie Havens


Photography Courtesy of Yahia Lababidi

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