Somewhere between the Zen koans and the quotations I have collected in a notebook over the years are some aphorisms.

If you want to get dictionary official, an aphorism is a pithy observation that contains a general truth, or a concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient classical author.

I think of them as short wisdom.

They can be as plainspoken as “If it ain‘t broke, don’t fix it.”

They can be as philosophical as Søren Kierkegaard’s “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

A musical one from jazz great John Coltrane: “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”

“Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see.” — Mark Twain

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think there is actually a difference between a good quote and an aphorism – but that’s a topic for another post.

porte vers l'horizon

One of my favorite contemporary authors of aphorisms is James Richardson who teaches at Princeton. Here are a few from his collection Vectors: Aphorisms & Ten-Second Essays

A beginning ends what an end begins.

All work is the avoidance of harder work.

Writing is like washing windows in the sun. With every attempt to perfect clarity you make a new smear.

The dead are still writing. Every morning, somewhere, is a line, a passage, a whole book you are sure wasn’t there yesterday.

The road reaches every place, the short cut only one.

Shadows are harshest when there is only one lamp.

Each lock makes two prisons.

All stones are broken stones.

More of James Richardson’s aphorisms are in Interglacial: New and Selected Poems & Aphorisms and  Life as Viewed in a Mirror: a Book of Poems and Aphorisms and also worth reading is Jim’s By the Numbers which was a National Book Award Finalist.