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Coffee Quotations from Classic Literature

by | February 22, 2024 | Books & Literature

Given coffee’s longstanding popularity, it is not surprising that references to coffee can be found in numerous literary classics. Here’s a small sample of favorite coffee quotations from classic literature. Others will be added as I discover them.

T. S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1915)

T. S. Eliot quotation from his Prufrock poem

T.S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915). (Background photo by klenova, Depositphotos.com)

"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons ..."

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965) was a towering figure in 20th-century poetry. Born in the United States, he settled in England and became a British citizen in 1927. In 1948, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.”

Although the narrator of Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” appears to be middle-aged, Eliot wrote the poem when he was just 22 years old. Published in Poetry magazine in 1915, the poem was not well received by critics, but it has since come to be regarded as a classic that heralded the transition from romantic poetry to modernism.

When Prufrock says that he has measured out his life with coffee spoons, he’s admitting that his life has been mundane and repetitious. (Maybe if Eliot drank better coffee, he wouldn’t have chosen to describe his life this way.)

In Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris, T.S. Eliot (played by David Lowe) is among the literary luminaries whom screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) meets in his midnight sojourns into the 1920s. Gil tells Eliot that Prufrock is his “mantra,” but wryly comments, “May I tell you where I come from they measure out their lives in coke spoons.”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is available in numerous collections of Eliot’s work, including T. S. Eliot: Collected Poems, 1909–1962.

Anthony Trollope, 'The Warden' (1855)

Anthony Trollope coffee quotation from The Warden

Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1855). (Background photo by belchonock, Depositphotos.com)

"What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?"

Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) was one of England’s most prolific and respected novelists in the Victorian era. His 1855 novel The Warden was the first of a series of six novels collectively known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire.

The warden of the title is the elderly Septimus Harding. He holds the position of warden of St. Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse supported by a charitable bequest. Mr. Harding finds himself the target of a reformer who questions the disproportionate amount of the hospital’s income that is paid to Harding. Although he is an honest and virtuous man, Harding is forced to struggle with the ethical implications of his situation.

The quotation about the luxuriousness of coffee comes from Chapter 16 of the novel. Harding is in London and wants to have a cup of coffee to pass the time before a late evening appointment with a barrister. He is directed to a cigar shop. Upstairs “[t]here were quantities of books, and long rows of sofas.” Harding judges the coffee to be “unexceptionable.” Nevertheless, with the sofa, books, and coffee, he feels he is in a “paradise.” Many coffee lovers, I’m sure, would agree with him.

Many editions of The Warden and Trollope’s other works are available.

Classic Literary Coffee Quotations Illustrate the Enduring Link Between Coffee and Literature

Both writers and readers have long chosen coffee to accompany them on their reading journeys. For many people, coffee is a part of everyday life, and maybe to some (like Prufrock), it represents only the ordinariness of life. But to paraphrase Trollope’s Mr. Harding, it can be comforting, even luxurious, and what could be better?

Copyright © Brian Lokker 2016, 2020, 2024. Earlier versions of this article were published on CoffeeCrossroads.com.

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