Jean Cocteau Quotes

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau, 1889 – 1963

Born: 5 July 1889, Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, France
Died: 11 October 1963, Milly-la-Foret, France

Born into a wealthy and prominent Parisian family, Cocteau was exposed to music, opera, painting, and literature from his early youth. When he was nine his father committed suicide and he left home at fifteen. His first volume of poetry, Alladin’s Lamp was published when he was nineteen. He was known in his Bohemian artistic circle as ‘The Frivolous Prince’, the name of a volume published when he was 22. During World War I he served as a Red Cross ambulance driver. His world was one of great artistic energy, his friends included Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Amedeo Modigiliani, Edith Piaf, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust, and Erik Satie. Although he considered himself a poet and published over twenty volumes of poetry and a similar amount of poetry critique, he also wrote five novels, twenty plays, scripts for six movies and the dialogue for three more. He also directed ten films. He was addicted to opium for about five years, as related in Opium, Diary of an Addict in 1929. He never married, his known relationships were primarily with women. He died of a heart attack at his chateau, some suggest this was in response to the news that his friend Edith Piaf had died the day before.

Jean Cocteau quotes:

A car can massage organs which no masseur can reach. It is the one remedy for the disorders of the great sympathetic nervous system.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium (1929)

A film is a petrified fountain of thought.
    Jean Cocteau – Esquire magazine (February 1961)

A man’s truest self realizations might require him, above all, to learn to close his eyes: to let himself be taken unawares, to follow his dark angel, to risk his illegal instincts.
    Jean Cocteau

A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Rappel à l’Ordre [A Call to Order] (1922)

After the writer’s death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.
    Jean Cocteau – On the journal of Franz Kafka; diary entry (7 June 1953)

All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

All spiritual journeys are martyrdoms.
    Jean Cocteau

An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.
    Jean Cocteau – Newsweek (16 May 1955)

An original artist is unable to copy. So he has only to copy in order to be original.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

Anything of any importance cannot help but be unrecognizable, since it bears no resemblance to anything already known.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious.
    Jean Cocteau

Art is not a pastime but a priesthood.
    Jean Cocteau

Art is science made clear.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

Art produces ugly things which frequently become beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.
    Jean Cocteau

Be a constant outrage to modesty There is nothing to fear: modesty is exercised only among the blind.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Be a mere assistant to your unconscious. Do only half the work. The rest will do itself.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Be helpful, even if it compromises you.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Be yourself. The world worships the original.
    Jean Cocteau

Beauty cannot be recognized with a cursory glance.
    Jean Cocteau – “On Invisibility” in Diary of an Unknown (1953)

Children and lunatics cut the Gordian knot which the poet spends his life patiently trying to untie.
    Jean Cocteau

Commissions suit me. They set limits. Jean Marais dared me to write play in which he would not speak in the first act, would weep for joy in the second and in the last would fall backward down a flight of stairs.
    Jean Cocteau – Vogue (May 1983)

Compromise yourself. Obscure your own trail.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Do as the beautiful woman: see to your figure and your petticoats. Though, of course, I am not speaking literally.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Do not fear being ridiculous in relation to the ridiculous.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Do not take up cause against the inaccuracies printed about you. They are your protection.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Elegance ceases to exist when it is noticed.
    Jean Cocteau

Emotion resulting from a work of art is only of value when it is not obtained by sentimental blackmail.
    Jean Cocteau

Everything one does in life, even love, occurs in an express train racing toward death. To smoke opium is to get out of the train while it is still moving. It is to concern oneself with something other than life or death.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

Expect neither reward nor beatitude. Return noble waves for ignoble.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Fight any instinct to be humorless, for humorlessness is the worst of all absurdities.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.
    Jean Cocteau

Find first, seek later.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Hasten slowly. Run faster than beauty.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Hate only hatred.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

He who is affected by an insult is infected by it.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

I am a lie who always speaks the truth.
    Jean Cocteau – “La Paquet Rouge” in Opera (1925)

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.
    Jean Cocteau

I’m not willing just to be tolerated. That wounds my love of love and of liberty.
    Jean Cocteau

If a hermit lives in a state of ecstasy, his lack of comfort becomes the height of comfort. He must relinquish it.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

In Paris, everybody wants to be an actor; nobody is content to be a spectator.
    Jean Cocteau

It is not I who become addicted, it is my body.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

Lack of manners is the sign of a hero.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

Life is a horizontal fall.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like — then cultivate it. That’s the only part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.
    Jean Cocteau

Man seeks to escape himself in myth, and does so by any means at his disposal. Drugs, alcohol, or lies. Unable to withdraw into himself, he disguises himself. Lies and inaccuracy give him a few moments of comfort.
    Jean Cocteau – “On Invisibility” in Diary of an Unknown (1953)

Mirrors would do well to reflect a little more before sending back images.
    Jean Cocteau

Nothing ever gets anywhere. The earth keeps turning round and round and gets nowhere. The moment is the only thing that counts.
    Jean Cocteau

One is either judge or accused. The judge sits, the accused stands. Live on your feet.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

One must be a living man and a posthumous artist.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

One of the characteristics of the dream is that nothing surprises us in it. With no regret, we agree to live in it with strangers, completely cut off from our habits and friends.
    Jean Cocteau – “Du Rêve” in La Difficulté d’Etre [The Difficulty of Being] (1947)

Poetry is a religion without hope. The poet exhausts himself in its service, knowing that, in the long run, a masterpiece is nothing but the perform-ance of a trained dog on very shaky ground.
    Jean Cocteau – “On Invisibility” in Diary of an Unknown (1953)

Poetry is an ethic. By ethic I mean a secret code of behavior, a discipline constructed and conducted according to the capabilities of a man who rejects the falsifications of the categorical imperative.
    Jean Cocteau – “On Invisibility” in Diary of an Unknown (1953)

Poetry is indispensable — if I only knew what for.
    Jean Cocteau

Poets don’t draw. They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently.
    Jean Cocteau – Dessins (1924)

Respect movements, flee schools.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

See your disappointments as good fortune. One plan’s deflation is another’s inflation.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

Since it’s now fashionable to laugh at the conservative French Academy, I have remained a rebel by joining it.
    Jean Cocteau

Such is the role of poetry. It unveils, in the strict sense of the word. It lays bare, under a light which shakes off torpor, the surprising things which surround us and which our senses record mechanically.
    Jean Cocteau – “Le Secret Professionnel” in Le Rappel à l’Ordre [A Call to Order] (1922)

Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet’s job. The rest is literature.
    Jean Cocteau – “Le Secret Professionnel” in Le Rappel à l’Ordre [A Call to Order] (1922)

The day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying.
    Jean Cocteau – “Postambule” in La Fin du Potomac (1939)

The ear disapproves but tolerates certain musical pieces; transfer them into the domain of our nose, and we will be forced to flee.
    Jean Cocteau

The extreme limit of wisdom — that is what the public calls madness.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

The greatest masterpiece in literature is only a dictionary out of order.
    Jean Cocteau

The instinct of nearly all societies is to lock up anybody who is truly free. First, society begins by trying to beat you up. If this fails, they try to poison you. If this fails too, they finish by loading honors on your head.
    Jean Cocteau

The joy of youth is to disobey, but the trouble is that there are no longer any orders.
    Jean Cocteau

The Louvre is like the morgue; one goes there to identify one’s friends.
    Jean Cocteau – “Le Secret Professionnel” in Le Rappel à l’Ordre [A Call to Order] (1922)

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.
    Jean Cocteau

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.
    Jean Cocteau

The poet never asks for admiration; he wants to be believed.
    Jean Cocteau – Newsweek (7 April 1958)

The prettiest dresses are worn to be taken off.
    Jean Cocteau

The reward of art is not fame or success but intoxication: that is why so many bad artists are unable to give it up.
    Jean Cocteau

The skin of all of us is responsive to gypsy songs and military marches.
    Jean Cocteau

The trouble about the Académie is that by the time they get around to electing us to a seat, we really need a bed.
    Jean Cocteau – On his election to Académie Française (1955)

The true tomb of the dead is the heart of the living.
    Jean Cocteau

The ultimate politeness in art consists of speaking only to those who are able to uncover and measure its relationships. Anything else is symbolic, and symbolism is merely transcendental imagery.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

There are truths which one can only say after having won the right to say them.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. This period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

True realism consists in revealing the surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Mystère Laïc (1928)

Understand that some of your enemies are amongst your best friends.
    Jean Cocteau – Diary of an Unknown (translated by Jesse Browner 1988)

We are in a period of such individualism that one no longer speaks of disciples; one speaks of thieves.
    Jean Cocteau – Opium: The Illustrated Diary of His Cure (1929)

We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?
    Jean Cocteau – On his election to Académie Française (1955)

We shelter an angel within us. We must be the guardians of that angel.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

Wealth is an inborn attitude of mind, like poverty. The pauper who has made his pile may flaunt his spoils, but cannot wear them plausibly.
    Jean Cocteau – Les Enfants Terribles translation by Rosamond Lehmann (1929).

What is history after all? History is facts which become lies in the end; legends are lies which become history in the end.
    Jean Cocteau

What is style? For many people, a very complicated way of saying very simple things. According to us, a very simple way of saying very complicated things.
    Jean Cocteau

What the public criticizes in you, cultivate. It is you.
    Jean Cocteau – Le Coq et l’Arlequin (1918)

You’ve never seen death? Look in the mirror every day and you will see it like bees working in a glass hive.
    Jean Cocteau

Youth can only assert itself through the conviction that its ventures surpass all others and resemble nothing.
    Jean Cocteau – The Difficulty of Being (1947)

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