Books and poems have a special way of inspiring us. Whether they arouse our creativity or offer solace through their fictional worlds, books and poems often hold a special place in our hearts. Below are ten literary tattoos that will have you rereading your favorite book tonight.
“Do I dare disturb the universe?” questions the speaker in T.S. Eliot’s first professionally published poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The poem tackles the pain and confusion that comes as a result of the isolation common of modern lifestyles.
Harry Potter inspired tattoos are so popular that we could easily put together a list comprised solely of cool wizarding world ink, but we’ll keep it to one piece for this post. This tattoo brings color to the cover image for Chapter 26 of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The events of this chapter set the final act of the series in motion, as Professor Dumbledore makes great sacrifices in the quest to defeat Lord Voldemort.
The influence Sylvia Plath has had on young female readers is immense and timeless due to her struggles with mental health and the deeply personal literature that Plath produced. This iconic line from her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, is an incredibly popular tattoo choice. It embodies the overall tone of much of Plath’s work, self-affirming and solemn. The line reminds the narrator, Esther, and the reader of her own potential, but it comes at a moment of darkness when Esther is mourning a friend whom she lost to suicide.
The narrator of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five offers a potential epitaph for the main character, Billy Pilgrim: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” As a prisoner of war, Billy lived through some of the greatest horrors that life can offer, yet when his daughter asks about his life, this is what Billy thinks. The irony of this line has stuck with many readers, as this particular quote is another iconic literary line that many fans have inked on their skin. The line is absurd; naturally, he has endured massive pain throughout his life, but those hardships do not discount the happy moments.
This line from the E.E. Cummings poem of the same name captures the feelings of devotion that love evokes. Anyone who has ever loved someone dearly knows these words to be true because we carry those feelings wherever we are. Whether we are close to the people we love or separated by a great distance, the feelings remain.
Something most of these tattoos have in common is their origin in literature that comments on the rewards and especially the hardships that we face in life. Because literature so often serves as a solace from dark times, tattoos like this reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “For Annie” represent what those dark times can feel like.
Meanwhile, tattoos like this quote from Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name serve as reminders that even in dark times, we must consider the happier moments and rise to the challenges that life presents us.
Though this pair of matching tattoos references no literature in particular, they do show that literature plays an important role in our lives. It not only can contribute to individual growth, but also offers the potential for people to develop connections through their shared love of literature.
Not all literary tattoos are direct quotes or images taken straight from the source material. Some are simple and subtle references, like this paper airplane inspired by Ellen Hopkins’s Impulse. The novel, composed entirely of free verse poetry, follows three mentally ill teens as they receive treatment at a mental hospital. During a field trip the teenage patients read letters from their parents. One of the three narrators, Connor endures a difficult relationship with his parents. The letter he receives does not comfort him, so Connor responds, “The paper airplane/ sits heavy in my hand. I cock/ back my arm, release, let it fly/ straight to hell.” Because the tattoo is subtle, only its owner truly understands its meaning.
This final literary tattoo is another subtle ode to the importance of reading. A book opens up to a mountain surrounded by stars and the different planets; the image captures the potential for reading to transport us to different worlds and allow us to gain insight to life experiences we may not experience otherwise.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.