21 Quotes About Nothing

U.S. National Archives

Nothing, thou elder brother ev’n to shade. 
Thou hadst a being ere the world was made.
― John Wilmot, “Upon Nothing”

Nihil posse creari

(Nothing can come)

De nilo…

(From nothing…)

—Lucan, De rerum natura I. 155

Where you have nothing, there you should want nothing.
—Samuel Beckett
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
Behold — and see if there be any sorrow
Like my sorrow.
—Lamentations, 1:12

For we brought nothing into this world;

And it is certain we can carry nothing out.

—1 Timothy, 6:7

‘…Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’
‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes”


I understand you not, my lord.


I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a
foolish ear.


My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go
with us to the king.


The body is with the king, but the king is not with
the body. The king is a thing–


A thing, my lord!


Of nothing: bring me to him

—The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, IV., ii.

There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
—The Wind in the Willows, Chapter One
VLADIMIR:  Nothing to be done. (Pause.) Gogo.
ESTRAGON:  (irritably). What is it?
VLADIMIR:  Did you ever read the Bible?
ESTRAGON:  The Bible . . . (He reflects.) I must have taken a look at it.
VLADIMIR:  Do you remember the Gospels?
ESTRAGON:  I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.
VLADIMIR:  You should have been a poet.
ESTRAGON:  I was. (Gesture towards his rags.) Isn’t that obvious?
—Waiting for Godot, Act 1
It is good to say it aloud: ‘Nothing has happened.’ Once again: ‘Nothing has happened.’ Does that help?“
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep–

He hath awakened from the dream of life–

‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in a mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.
—Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘An Elegy on the Death of Keats’
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.
—John Keats
We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams.
We are only what might have been…
—Charles Lamb


The best thing about the bedroom was the bed. I liked to stay in bed for hours, even during the day with covers pulled up to my chin. It was good in there, nothing ever occurred in there, no people, nothing.

—Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

‘…You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant café. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.’‘Good night,’ said the younger waiter.

‘Good night,’ the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself, It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.


—Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ (1933)

‘…I quite agree with you,’ said the Duchess; ‘and the moral of that is — “Be what you would seem to be” — or if you’d like it put more simply — “Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.’

‘I think I should understand that better,’ Alice said very politely, ‘if I had it written down: but I can’t quite follow it as you say it.’

‘That’s nothing to what I could say if I chose,’ the Duchess replied, in a pleased tone.

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

τούτου μὲν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐγὼ σοφώτερός εἰμι· κινδυνεύει μὲν γὰρ ἡμῶν οὐδέτερος οὐδὲν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν εἰδέναι, ἀλλ’ οὗτος μὲν οἴεται τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οὄιμαι· ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μή οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι
(…I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.)
–Plato, Apology
We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.
―Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
 .  .  .
(…He lifts his ashplant high with both hands and smashes the chandelier. Time’s livid final flame leaps and, in the following darkness, ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry.)

― James Joyce, Ulysses


Defend me…

From reveries so airy, from the toil

Of dropping buckets into empty wells,

And growing old in drawing nothing up.

—William Cowper, ‘The Task’ (1785)
“…But what I like doing best is Nothing.” “How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. “Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it.” “Oh, I see,” said Pooh. “This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing right now.” “Oh, I see,” said Pooh again. “It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering.” “Oh!” said Pooh.” 

― A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner


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