Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory but — but to make out of the material of the human spirit something which was not there before, so that this award is only mine in trust. It will not be hard to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to go to the same — do the same with the acclaim too, by making — using this fine moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and young women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is the one who may some day stand where I stood this afternoon.
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear, so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man, young woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lucking — lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he lives under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
Until he releases — relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will still endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,
Sunday, 10th December, 1950.