Sayings of Kenneth Burke


My Favourite ‘Flowerishes’

Here are some of the many aphorisms — what Burke calls ‘Flowerishes’ —  which are scattered throughout his Collected Poems (a volume which unfortunately has been out of print for many years). I have here chosen the ones that I find myself quoting most often. Please note that Burke’s  ‘Flowerishes’ are not offered as solemn philosophical statements: rather they show him thinking aloud, trying out ideas, in the spirit of what he calls ‘the comic frame of acceptance’. This does not, of course, preclude rebellion: hence Burke’s resistance to the powerful forces responsible for the pollution of the natural environment. (Laurence Coupe)



Even humility can go to one’s head.
At the very start, one’s terms jump to conclusions.
When he didn’t fight other people, he fought himself — and boy, could he fight dirty!
We always avoid being stupid like other people by being stupid in ways of our own.
Must it always be wishful thinking? Can’t it sometimes be thoughtful wishing?
If you can learn to benefit from adverse criticism, your enemies will work for you without pay.
When people started agreeing with him he lost all his convictions.
This job is so top secret I don’t know what I’m doing.
Though he despised mankind, he dearly loved an audience.
He resolved always to wait two weeks before committing suicide.
In a world full of problems, he sat doing puzzles.
They say alcohol reveals our true selves – but which of our selves is that?
He felt it was alright to do like the others, if only he did it with a bad conscience.
As outmoded as last year’s model of the universe – a dreary old place, full of old newthings.
Poets with little to say learn to write as though guarding a secret.
Freud’s theory of the father-kill may not be true at all, but it does seem true of Freudians.
Afraid of losing his faith in scepticism….
Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘I knew him when…’
The cure for digging in the dirt is an idea; the cure for any idea is more ideas; and the cure for all ideas is digging in the dirt.
The less life, the more biography.
Art turns liabilities to assets, guilt into solace, weakness into strength; it transforms the onus of owing into the honour of ownership.
By saying no to himself, he gave form to his life.
They canonize their saints and sanctify their cannon.
To cover their delay they tell you to hurry.
Rusty with irony…
When in Rome, do as the Greeks. (Counter-Statement p 119)
Where there’s meaning, there’s persuasion. (A Rhetoric Of Motives p 172)