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quotations about cities

Cities quote

Towered cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men.


To look at the cross-section of any plan of a big city is to look at something like the section of a fibrous tumor.


Every city is a living body.

ST. AUGUSTINE, City of God

The tumultuous populace of large cities are ever to be dreaded. Their indiscriminate violence prostrates for the time all public authority, and its consequences are sometimes extensive and terrible.

GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, Jul. 28, 1791

How soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn't love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves.


In great cities men are more callous both to the happiness and the misery of others, than in the country; for they are constantly in the habit of seeing both extremes.


What is the city but the people?


We flee away from cities, but we bring
The best of cities, these learned classifiers,
Men knowing what they seek, armed eyes of experts.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, "The Adirondacs," May-Day and Other Pieces

In the Big City large and sudden things happen. You round a corner and thrust the rib of your umbrella into the eye of your old friend from Kootenai Falls. You stroll out to pluck a Sweet William in the park -- and lo! bandits attack you -- you are ambulanced to the hospital -- you marry your nurse; are divorced -- get squeezed while short on U. P. S. and D. O. W. N. S. -- stand in the bread line -- marry an heiress, take out your laundry and pay your club dues -- seemingly all in the wink of an eye.... The City is a sprightly youngster, and you are red paint upon its toy, and you get licked off.

O. HENRY, "The Complete Life of John Hopkins"

The most dangerous savages live in cities.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

In the Big City a man will disappear with the suddenness and completeness of the flame of a candle that is blown out. All the agencies of inquisition—the hounds of the trail, the sleuths of the city's labyrinths, the closet detectives of theory and induction—will be invoked to the search. Most often the man's face will be seen no more. Sometimes he will reappear in Sheboygan or in the wilds of Terre Haute, calling himself one of the synonyms of "Smith," and without memory of events up to a certain time, including his grocer's bill. Sometimes it will be found, after dragging the rivers, and polling the restaurants to see if he may be waiting for a well-done sirloin, that he has moved next door.

O. HENRY, "The Sleuths"

A great city is that which has the greatest men and women,
If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the
whole world.

WALT WHITMAN, "Song of the Broad-Axe"

Now in the city there are two worlds. One world has walls around it and one world has people around it. The second world is outside, with the late-winter sky and the bare trees and the hard pavements that stretch in every direction, and with the bright shining shop windows and the chattering crowds. This world has a sightless malicious face, which is the face of the crowd. The face of the crowd is not immediately to be seen, it only becomes apparent after a while, when it shows itself in wondering side-long looks and sharp glances.


Cities are the abyss of the human species.


I've had my fill of these city guttersnipes--all that scavenging scum! They're the sort of people, who, if the gates of heaven opened to them, all they'd feel would be a draught.


You could live in a city, be one of its inhabitants, without comprehending or being part of its wider picture. Like mice living in a human house--it was their address, but that didn't mean they had rights, that they had to be viewed with anything more than benign amusement, that they weren't fair game for cats or traps.


Nations die first in the big cities.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

The confined air of a metropolis is hurtful to the minds and bodies of those who have never lived out of it. It is impure, stagnant--without breathing-space to allow a larger view of ourselves or others--and gives birth to a puny, sickly, unwholesome, and degenerate race of beings.

WILLIAM HAZLITT, Characteristics

When the Stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
What will you answer? "We all dwell together
To make money from each other"? or "This is a community"?

T. S. ELIOT, The Rock

The center of civility in our society is not the small town but the big city, where you learn to thread your way through heavy traffic and subdue your aggressiveness and extend kindness to strangers. Small-town Republicans are leery of big cities and the anonymity they bestow, but there is no better place to learn the delicate ballet of social skill.

GARRISON KEILLOR, "Renouncing Evil Powers and Anonymity," A Prairie Home Companion, Jan. 12, 2010

If you would be known, and not know vegetate in a village; if you would know, and not be known, live in a city.


Cities were built to measure time, to remove time from nature. There's an endless counting down.... When you strip away all the surfaces, when you see into it, what's left is terror. This is the thing that literature was meant to cure. The epic poem, the bedtime story.

DON DELILLO, Point Omega

All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful, but the beauty is grim.

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY, Where the Blue Begins

Cities have always been the fireplaces of civilization, whence light and heat radiated out into the dark.

THEODORE PARKER, Lessons from the World of Matter and the World of Men

Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might begin a mutual love, or dislike, friendship, or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality. Only through travel can we know where we belong or not, where we are loved and where we are rejected.

ROMAN PAYNE, Cities & Countries

They can print statistics and count the populations in hundreds of thousands, but to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like a pain of an amputated leg no longer there.

GRAHAM GREENE, Our Man in Havana

The country life is to be preferr'd; for there we see the works of God; but in cities little else but the works of men.

WILLIAM PENN, Some Fruits of Solitude

To one who has been long in city pent,
’Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven.

JOHN KEATS, "To One Who Has Been Long in City Pent"

City’s just a jungle; more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin' to get away
I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

BOB DYLAN, "Mississippi"

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