12 Morbid Quotes on What the Dead Can Teach Us

This year’s Día de Muertos begins November 1 and concludes November 2, a period during which celebrants will memorialize loved ones and entice spirits with offerings of food, drink, flowers, and other ephemeral treats. This year will also be Mexico City’s first time staging a large-scale Day of the Dead parade —a tradition kicked off in honor of the James Bond film “Spectre,” which concocted just such an event for its opening chase scene.

Fortunately for both the living and the dead, we don’t necessarily stop learning from someone just because their earthly voice has been silenced. The departed have a way of resurfacing, bidden or otherwise, to impart a perspective that tends to remain hidden beneath the daily bustle of life. This week’s period of remembrance may provide just such an opportunity — in the meantime, here are some morbid quotes from numerous authors whose imaginations have dwelt among the dead, returning with offerings in kind from their world to ours.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Philippics, 44 BC
“The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living.”

Valeria Luiselli, Sidewalks, 2013
“But perhaps a person only has two real residences: the childhood home and the grave.”

Octavio Paz, Sunstone/Piedra De Sol, 1991
“life is other, always there,
further off, beyond you and
beyond me, always on the horizon,
life which unlives us and makes us strangers,
that invents our face and wears it away”

Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book, 2008
“Name the different kinds of people,’ said Miss Lupescu. ‘Now.’
Bod thought for a moment. ‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘… Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.”

Rudolfo A. Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima, 1972
“Understanding comes with life. As a man grows he sees life and death, he is happy and sad, he works, plays, meets people – sometimes it takes a lifetime to acquire understanding, because in the end understanding simply means having sympathy for people.”

Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos, The Uncomfortable Dead, 2004
“‘Do you believe in ghosts?’
‘Some I do, some I don’t,” Belascoaran said, not meaning to be enigmatic or anything, just trying to establish the difference between Hollywood and Holocaust.”

Stephen King, Pet Sematary, 1983
“Sometimes dead is better.”

Rosario Castellanos, The Book of Lamentations, 1998
“The sound is gone. There’s nothing left but the insomniac throbbing of crickets. Crickets in the garden, the courtyard, the back courtyard. Close, domestic, identifiable. And those out in the country. Between all of them they raise, little by little, a wall that will keep out the thing that lies waiting for the tiniest crack of silence to steal through. The thing that is feared by all those who are sleepless, those who walk through the night, those who are lonely, children. That thing. The voice of the dead.”

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 1998
“You can curse the dead or pray for them, but don’t expect them to do a thing for you. They’re far too interested in watching us, to see what in heaven’s name we will do next.”

Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World, 2015
“All families had started off in some mysterious way: to repopulate the earth, or by accident, or by force, or out of boredom; and it’s all a mystery what each will become.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four, 1949
“We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing.”

Octavio Paz, “Mask and Transparency,” 1967
“Bodies are visible hieroglyphs. Every body is an erotic metaphor, and the meaning of all these metaphors is always the same: death.”




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