Welcome to my page of metaphorical unicorn quotations and unicorns as symbols. Nowadays they symbolize glittery imaginative possibilities and all that dreamy jazz, but they’ve meant and been symbolic of many quite different things through the centuries.
Let none be offended or surprised at this piping and dancing. Eccentricity belongs to genius; the most ardent soul requires relaxation from severe studies; and our author has a mind both mighty and playful, skipping like the unicorn. ~Review of Mr. William Huntington’s Literary and Religious Curiosity, c. 1802
There was something essentially aristocratic about him. His kinship to the horse,… the headlong enthusiasm of his devotion to beautiful women. He was fierce and proud and dangerous to his foes, as a knight should be, and he was also gentle; he had the dignity of solitude; he was beautiful and strong; most significant of all, he was a protector and champion of other beasts against the wiles of their enemies. In all the range of animal lore there is no other story conceived so completely in the aristocratic spirit as that of the unicorn stepping down to the poisoned water while the other beasts wait patiently for his coming, and making it safe for them by dipping his magic horn. Here was a perfect emblem of the ideal that… exceptional power and privilege were balanced and justified by exceptional responsibility. ~Odell Shepard, “Shaping Fantasies,” The Lore of the Unicorn, 1930
See! the gay Unicorn the Wood adorn,
Fair sign of Plenty with his Iv’ry Horn!
~John Whaley (1710–1745), “A Journey to Houghton. A Poem.”
Think of the Unicorn, that curious symbol of retirement from the world… ~Edward Carpenter, “Tradition, Convention, and the Gods,” c. 1898
She who calls for unicorns
A fitting bride shall be
For one who guides a soaring ship
Upon a cloud-tossed sea.
For no one but a poet true
Would ever dream to choose
A unicorn so fleet and small
With brightly polished shoes…
And when the day is sort o’ brown
And bird-men climb the skies,
O, may she ride about the town
A poem in disguise.
~Alfaretta Lansing, “Reply for Anne Spencer Morrow,” in American Poetry Magazine, 1929
I believe that the Unicorn may come to represent… the realm of art… Bereft of a complete fable, the Unicorn has earned a place in our imagination as an arcanum, an emblem of what we do not know. ~Roger Shattuck (1923–2005), “The Sphinx and the Unicorn,” Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography, 1986
According to some folk tales, the unicorn of the Middle Ages symbolized the season of spring, and was thought to possess the ability to renew life, heal sickness, and guard against evil. ~Christy Shaffer, Unicorns Coloring Book, 2000, Dover Publications
The unicorn and I are one:
He also pauses in amaze
Before some maiden’s magic gaze,
And, while he wonders, is undone.
On some dear breast he slumbers deep,
And Treason slays him in that sleep.
Just so have ended my life’s days;
So Love and my Lady lay me low.
My heart will not survive this blow.
~Thibaut IV, Count of Champagne (1201–1253)
The unicorn stands alone, still as frost. It keeps watch down the corridors of time. The past and the future meet in the presence of the unicorn: the darkness and light become one. Patient as a candle flame, inviolate, here is our guardian, keeper of the silent unknown. ~Josephine Bradley, In Pursuit of the Unicorn, 1980
This weary ol’ workhorse is a unicorn, my friend. ~Terri Guillemets, “New start in an old house,” 2006
Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered. How much blood, how many tears in exchange for these axes, these muzzles, these unicorns, these torches, these towers, these martlets, these seedlings of stars and these fields of blue! ~Jean Cocteau (1889–1963)
I’ve heard when John was younger
He was taken with a hunger
To see the white-horned wonder
They call the unicorn.
But when that star-horned, moon-maned dancer
Finally called, John could not answer;
Fear held him like a prisoner,
And he watched it walk away…
Oh, when I watch old Ragged John
Go staggering by and wandering on,
I know there’s nothing sadder
Than a heart that feared its dreams.
If a unicorn should call to you
Some moon-mad night all washed in dew,
Then here’s the prayer to whisper:
Grant me the heart to follow.
~Beatrice Farrington (Bruce Coville), “Ragged John,” 1987, in Coville’s The Unicorn Treasury: Stories, Poems, and Unicorn Lore, 1988
In this volume of poetry for animals you will find… study guides or questions… Do not be alarmed! Unlike most study guides, these are not meant to terrify and confuse, until the young reader starts slavering like a mad dog and gnawing bits out of Teacher’s leg. (You know what I mean — surely you’ve had the experience of coming to the end of a poem about, say, a girl and her unicorn, only to be asked the question, “How did the author use the unicorn as a metaphor?” when all the time you thought the unicorn was used as a form of transportation.) No, the study guides included in this volume are meant both to spare Teacher’s leg, and also to provide ever greater opportunities for pleasure and happiness. ~I. H. Smythe, Poetry for Animals, 2011
Metaphorical Unicorn Quotations
Original post date: 2015 Sep 21
1st major revision: 2017 May 3
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