Literary Tattoos

The tattooed image is becoming passe as more and more people choose words to express themselves. Not just mottoes like “Death Before Dishonor,” but whole passages from novels or favorite poems.

The James Joyce one above is kind of pretentious for my taste but it’s better than all the poor unfortunate people who’ve chosen stuff from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and poems by Sylvia Plath.

The girl above chose song lyrics, from “New Found Glory” on one leg and “Cartel” on the other. I don’t know. Couldn’t she settle for lyric sheets?

The human doodle-pad look is kind of questionable to me, but in fact I have thought about a song lyric or two in memory of my son. After looking at the archives at, a blog dedicated to literary tattoos, I’m more tempted to go for something really fun. How about this lyric from “Santeria” by Sublime:

Tell Sanchito that if he knows
What is good for him
He best go run an’ hide
Daddy’s got a new forty-five

And I won’t think twice to stick that barrel
Straight down Sancho’s throat
Believe me when I say that
I got something for his punk ass

That, I could live with.   What do you think about literary tattoos? Cool, stupid, or you already have several?

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74 Responses to Literary Tattoos

  1. Drollgirl says:

    Barf. It all reminds me of annoying Angelina Jolie tattoos. Barf. What is next…corporate logos, band names and fashion brands?

  2. Jazmin says:

    I definitely want a Van Gogh quote. I also want a mini starry night on the inside part of my upper arm. Judge me, it’s ok. I really want the starry night tattoo, but it makes me sad to have people think will think that I’m only familiar with his most famous piece.

  3. Kellz says:

    to a certain degree I think they’re fine. But as for the song lyrics on the calves I just think it’s overall tacky.

  4. Nats says:

    I got JUICY in huge font tattooed across my butt. I never would have thought that trend would fade.

  5. Marky says:

    “Life is so demanding without understanding.” — Ace of Base

    This, without the attribution, across my belly in Times New Roman

  6. hammie says:

    I used to write formula on my legs to crib during exams. We wore short dresses and could scratch our legs in such a way to send embarassed young nerdy maths teachers scurrying back to the front of the class.
    Thinking now if I had it tattooed I might actually remember how to do Algebra…

  7. d says:

    To each his own. With tattoos in general, I just always hope people think them through.

    I have part of the Declaration of Independence on my back, and I’m sure the kids with Harry Potter tattooed on them find that as strange as I find theirs….

  8. Devin says:

    @ Heinous – Please come find me after you get “real talk” by R kelly tattooed… I think you’re my soulmate.

  9. Devin says:

    oh wait NM I miss read! Find me after you get the lyrics.

  10. Heinous says:

    @Alicia – thanks!

    @Devin – no plans to get the lyrics, sorry!

  11. Annemarie – ‘it’s not that different to wearing a logo t-shirt’ – you do get that tattooes are kind of permanent, right? 😛
    A friend of mine has a line from a poem that reads ‘and the fire and the rose are one’ on her wrist, complete with a rose. It looks stunning. But I’m worried that one day she might fall out of love with the quote, the statement, and it’ll just be pretentious.
    I would love a tattoo, and if I did I’d probably get a short quote. But since all the hipster kids have quotes…or sailor tats. I went to a party and discovered the friend who was throwing it was wearing a boater and had recently got an anchor tattoo. See, hipsters. They ruin all the good stuff.

  12. Oh, and I know a guy with ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt on his upper arm. It’s impressive.

  13. liz says:

    this post almost had me spitting my coffee on my desk, I laughed so hard…I have both “death before dishonor” AS WELL as a sylvia plath quote…

    The death before dishonor, well, I was young but I still love it. It’s around an anchor on my back that I got while in China, it was my first time crossing the Atlantic, and as I worked for many years in Coney Island as a bit of a carny by the sea, the sailor theme just fit me. The sylvia plath quote has to do with some medical issues I faced this year.

    My tattoos are hidden, on parts of my body that most people will not see. I got them for myself and only for myself. I think tattoos are fantastic, but would I get an entire poem on myself? No, but if you want to, I won’t judge, everyone has their reasons.

  14. Natty says:

    What I hate more than literary tattoos are those stupid statements, e.g. “only god can judge me” or “get rich or die trying” or even those stupid abbreviations – such as M.O.B. I dont mine literary tattoos or lyrics too much to be honest – I like any tattoo as long as it has been well done. I simply hate shit tats done by people who havent got a clue.

  15. Three out of my eight tattoos are literary. One serious, one sentimental, and one completely idiotic and I love them all. If you don’t, just look away. There are a lot of douchey things in life, tattoos included.

  16. Mary Z says:

    I think it’s sad that we’re in a time now that people can’t get tattoos with quotes from poems, books, films, etc., without some one thinking they are trying to show off how intelligent they are and coming off as ‘pretentious.’ Without talking to the person, you really couldn’t know. At the same time I wish people wouldn’t have ruined it, by being pretentious.

    On another note- Due to the fact that I’m picky about tattoo artists, and broke (a terrible combination), I only have one tattoo. It’s one that, going in to get, I knew many other people had. It’s just the song title ‘No Lies, Just Love’ by Bright Eyes on my inner upper forearm. I have my own reasons, and I’m ridiculously happy with the font. I’ll probably end up getting something else by Bright Eyes in the future. Here’s a picture:

    If love something enough to put it into, not on, your body, it shouldn’t matter the font, and it shouldn’t matter to someone else. It’s a little confusing to me why people who’s bodies the ink isn’t in hate them so much. I love when people get tattoos of words but in a way that it forms an image too. That’s pretty amazing hah.

  17. The Bad Kate says:

    Even though every second person on the street has at least one tattoo these days, I STILL almost always take a second, horrified look when I see one, because my brain usually reads it as either a bruise or a terrible birthmark in a passing glance.

    That said, if one must have a literary tattoo, at least get it calligraphed beautifully, like these:

  18. Bessie the Buddhacow – Oooh, that words and wings one would make a great tattoo.
    Rebecca – That T S Elliot exchange…I cried with laughter. I probably know someone like that.

  19. Mary Z – I know what you mean. It does terrify me a bit that there are few things I can do now without thinking ‘oh no, am I pretentious?’

  20. Kitty says:

    if it’s a mantra that has followed you for several years, then go ahead, keep it short and put it someplace discrete. but if you’re reading diane steele at night and getting the shit inked on you the next morning, or if you stole the line from a cult movie you saw quoting a book you never read… i mean, i dunno, man. doodle that shit in your diary. unless you’re, like 75, or you do it as a joke when you’re drunk.
    the sublime idea is way cooler than the james joyce necklace.

  21. Monika says:

    Well, what kinda hit me was the sentence “…it’s better than all the poor unfortunate people who’ve chosen stuff from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and poems by Sylvia Plath”. Think it’s totally inappropriate. I have a tatt, but it’s not literary yet (the other will be). I plan to get a HP tatt (one, the other will be quotes from my favorite poets and writers) and I really am not “poor” or “unfortunate” (“crazy” is the right word). You get tattoo because it means st to you. If someone decides to have an ass tattoo, I won’t be rude (through gestures nor words). This kind of behaviour is sad, really.

  22. Illy says:

    Wow these comments are harsh. Your body is your own body. If you love Harry Potter, go get a Harry Potter tattoo. I’m an english literature student and I love books, there’s nothing pretentious about loving a particular line or author just like someone might love a picture, a song quote or a movie line. Get a grip. Someone else’s tattoo is not harming you so get over it.

  23. Mere says:

    Entire passages are a bit excessive, and the pictures above, yes, are horrible tattoos. But getting a single line from a song, or a few lines from a book or poem? What’s wrong with that? Especially if it is something particularly meaningful. A lot of literary tattoos are something specific. Don’t even with the Sylvia Plath quotes. Most of the peoplle who get a Plath quote tattoo get it as a recovery tattoo for mental illness, and Sylvia Plath is amazing. You sound extremely uneducated, and I know of many tattoo artists that have words tattooed on their body. Would you tell them that the body shouldn’t be “readable”??

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