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Eyes are one of the most complex organs in our body. We rely on our eyes to navigate and understand the world around us — meanwhile, others learn something about us by looking into our eyes and perhaps getting a glimpse of our soul.
Over the centuries, both eyes and vision are found in literature, proverbs and even clichés and effectively describe truths about our lives. The wisdom in these quotes can teach us both how to live and also, how foundational eyes are to the experience of being human.
1. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” – Margaret Wolfe Hungerford
Beauty is subjective — another way of saying, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” This sentiment appears time and time again in literature, from Shakespeare to the writing of Benjamin Franklin. The earliest citation of this exact phrasing in print is from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in Molly Bawn, published in 1878.
2. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Gandhi
While this popular quote is attributed to Gandhi, there’s no record of him actually saying it; rather, writings about his nonviolent ideals used a version of the phrase to describe his work. It continues to remind us of the dangers of revenge.
3. “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller
This oft-quoted saying from Helen Keller is especially potent since Keller was, of course, blind. It’s a reminder that the brain and imagination are a greater asset than literal vision — and also an indicator that Keller was aware her inability to see was not the disadvantage most of us fear.
4. “People see only what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One might also argue people will only understand this quote according to their own preferences. Emerson was perhaps criticizing those who do not take time to consider the perspective of others — but even our perspectives are a product of our experiences, so the quote could be indicating a reality rather than passing blame.
5. “The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” – Virginia Woolf
This quote is found in Virginia Woolf’s short story, An Unwritten Novel. But, the quote stands strong apart from the whole text and reminds us how the expectations of others can affect us.
6. “The eyes are the window of the soul.” – Traditional Proverb
The oldest occurrence of this quote is likely Cicero, who said, “The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter,” but a similar sentiment is found in the Bible, in Matthew 6:22: “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
7. “To enjoy a grander sight, climb to a greater height.” – Chinese proverb
This saying can be taken at face value — our successes are up to us. The quote also inspires us to build on previous accomplishments.
8. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
This idiom dates back to the 13th century and directly contradicts another famous saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” However, the phrase is used to refer to both friends and items such as an ugly mark on a wall that we cover on purpose with a picture frame. It’s said that early computers, predating the abilities in artificial intelligence we have today, would translate this quote as “invisible idiot.”
9. “Don’t call the world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses.” – Aaron Hill
Aaron Hill was a poet and playwright in 18th century England. It’s likely he wore glasses.
10. “The first love letters are written with the eyes.” – French Proverb
Whether you believe in love at first sight or not, our eyes have an uncanny way of spilling our emotions.
These quotes remind us the power in our sense of sight, and also how the function of seeing provided by our eyes is just the beginning of true vision.