9 Gorgeous Quotes from the Journals of John Cheever

“Art is the triumph over chaos.”


John Cheever is best remembered for his short fiction, in particular, his haunting story, “The Swimmer,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1964. After he died of cancer in 1982, Cheever’s widow Mary and his children made the difficult decision to publish his journals—a prolific accounting of Cheever’s struggles with alcoholism, his sexual identity, and his writing.

Though he is known now as “the Chekhov of the suburbs,” Cheever’s journals, which span from the late 1940s to his death, reveal a man who despite his demons managed to “put it all down” on “yellow paper,” writing of “the foolish agonies of anxiety … about our painful search for self, jeopardized by a stranger in the post office, a half-seen face in a train window.”

In honor of Cheever’s birthday on May 27, take a glimpse into his intimate moments with these beautiful excerpts from his complete journals.

“To write well, to write passionately, to be less inhibited, to be warmer, to be more self-critical, to recognize the power of as well as the force of lust, to write, to love.”

“I think now of the months that I have longed to write a story that will be fine, that will be singing, that will have in it all kinds of lights and pleasures.”

“It was a powerfully sensual world; the smell of fires and flowers and baking bread and peaches cooking for jam and autumn woods and spring woods and the hallways of old houses and the noises of the rain and the sea, of thunderstorms and the west wind. This is a red-blooded and splendid inheritance.”

“What we take for grief or sorrow seems, often, to be our inability to put ourselves into a viable relationship to the world; to this nearly lost paradise.”

“So I look yearningly at the soft stars, but they will do me no good. I think of moral crises, but when have I known the taste of abstinence and self-discipline?”

“Oh to put it down, and to put it down with the known colors of life: the reds of courage, the yellows of love.”

“The wind slams some doors within the house, and then I smell the rain, minutes before it begins to fall on my land. What I smell is the damp country churches, the back hallways of houses where I was contented and happy, privies, wet bathing suits—an odor, it seems, of joy.”

“Ski briefly into a stand of pines … I see the strength and beauty of the copse and think that it reminds me only of a photograph of an old woman who has written, ‘Standing among my great trees, I think of all my loves.’”

“I think this is the very first snowfall of my long life in which I have not been able to participate in some way. Skiing, or coasting, or shoveling the walks. I say this to the dogs while I drink my coffee and it is perhaps their imperturbability that leads me to ask, Whatever made me think that I would live forever?”

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