Jack Kerouac’s Best Quotes

Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady
Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg
Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank
Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady
Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr, and Allen Ginsberg
Jack Kerouac, Ed White, and Tom Livornese
Jack Kerouac, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims

Jack Kerouac’s birthday was this week; the beat novelist, poet, and national heartthrob would have been 92. His life and legacy have been a hallmark for anyone who has ever, in Kerouacs words, "burn, burn, burn[ed]" to live,  been "desirous of everything at the same time," or spent an afternoon considering cloud formations. His lust for life is best captured in his novel On The Road, chronicling the seven kinetic, frenetic years he spent traveling cross-country (and back again, again, and again) with Neal Cassady (aka "Dean Moriarty"). Kerouac wrote the book in a mythic three weeks on a single scroll, because the words came faster than he could change typewriter paper.  The resulting prose—part religious sermon, part supplication, part drunken monologue, part poetry, part onomatopoeia—read like written jazz. His was the kind of contagious creative energy that won friends like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and inspired counter-culture luminaries the Doors, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith. Just read some of his best quotes below, and see if you aren't inspired to want more out of your day.

On Life:

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

“Life must be rich and full of loving—it's no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone.”

“Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream”

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running—that's the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters. And if your cans are redhot and you can't hold them in your hands, just use good old railroad gloves, that's all.”

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”

“As far as I'm concerned the only thing to do is sit in a room and get drunk”

“Pain or love or danger makes you real again....”

“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.”

“I promise I shall never give up, and that I'll die yelling and laughing, and that until then I'll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone's lapel and make them confess to me and to all.”

“Let nature do the freezing and frightening and isolating in this world. Let men work and love and fight it off.”

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view.”

"Anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven, for what's heaven? what's earth? All in the mind."

On Nature:

“I have lots of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry. It's all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don't know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing. It's a dream already ended. There's nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.”

“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.”

“One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls.”

On Writing:

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

“I'm going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children.”

“Don't use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.”

“The page is long, blank, and full of truth. When I am through with it, it shall probably be long, full, and empty with words.”

On Himself:

“I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

“My witness is the empty sky.”

On Traveling:

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?”

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

“I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”

On  Love:

“A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.”

“It always makes me proud to love the world somehow—hate's so easy compared.”

On Being a Mad One:

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”

“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realized no matter what you do it's bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”


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  • Kasia

    I love you for posts like this, ITG.

  • Amy Mills

    Love Jack Kerouac -- just finished reading the dharma bums (nice coincidence with his birthday, I guess). But you forgot one of the best quotes from On The Road!

    "Anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven , for what's heaven? what's earth? All in the mind."

    • ITGMackenzie

      So good! Just added :)


  • lolauren

    love love love. thanks for posting

  • Cay

    Kerouac was obviously brilliant, but I hate that people so often hero-worship the concept of him without actually closely reading his work. There are a WHOLE lot of problems with him, particularly his treatment of the female characters in both his life and his writing. He might have been a literary genius, but he was FAR from any sort of ideal human being.

    • ITGMackenzie

      I agree, even Kerouac admits to his failures--he left a lot of destruction in his wake. I actually think the film version of On The Road treated this topic quite well. Have you seen it? That being said, Kerouac had a huge impact on American literature (I mean, had you ever read jazz before?) and culture at large, and has uttered some pretty inspiring phrases, no?

    • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

      Yes, and this definitely goes for so many writers and artists.
      Look at Woody Allen, for example. Allegations point to his not being a downright creeper, but at the same token I can't really deny his genius as an artist.
      That's where it grows incredibly hard for a fan -- should we always separate the art from the human who makes it, and if we do, does that make us morally blind for not factoring in the wrongs? Great point, Cay!

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    Thanks for posts like these, ITG! Joan Didion is one of my goddesses, so I loved seeing a post on her birthday! And Jack Kerouac is one of my crushes in the emotional category, so I was delighted to see this post as well.
    Thank you for always believing in the interests and intelligence of your readers.



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