7 Inspiring French Quotes About Life

France has had its share of philosophers, poets and authors throughout history who have altered the way we look at life and the world. Within their works, there are so many beautiful and inspiring French quotes about life. 

There are plenty of quotes already found online so I scoured French literature for some fresh, thought-provoking quotes from famous French authors. This post might just change the way you look at life.


1. “La vie est un sommeil, l’amour en est le rêve, et vous aurez vécu si vous avez aimé.”

By: Alfred de Musset

English translation: Life is a sleep, love is its dream, and you will have lived if you have loved.

Alfred de Musset was a French dramatist and poet who was better known for his account of his spectacular affair with poet George Sand (who we’ll meet later in this post).  This particular quote, though, is from an earlier work, “A quoi rêvent les jeunes filles” (What Do Young Girls Dream Of), which is a comedy play about twin sisters who have very different experiences with love.  

Life and love are often intertwined, and in this quote Musset equates love to a beautiful dream that can make life even more fulfilling.  

2. “Quand nous prendrons conscience de notre rôle, même le plus effacé, alors seulement nous serons heureux.”

By: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

English translation: It is only when we become conscious of our part in life, however modest, that we shall be happy. 

French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was best known for his charming novella “The Little Prince.” This quote is from his lesser known “Wind, Sand and Stars.” In this memoir, Saint-Exupéry shares beautiful musings on life and the nature of humanities, interspersed within stories of his adventures as an aviator. 

In this quote, the author reminds us how important it is to find our place in the world. Even if we don’t make a big impact, finding a purpose gives your life more meaning and makes you happier as a result. The quote continues:

Alors seulement nous pourrons vivre en paix, car ce qui donne un sens à la vie donne un sens à la mort.
(Only then will we be able to live in peace and die in peace, for only this lends meaning to life and to death.)

3. “Il est presque impossible de savoir ce que sera un homme, difficile de savoir ce qu’il est, aisé de savoir ce qu’il a été.”

By: George Sand 

English translation: It is almost impossible to know what a man will be, difficult to know what he is, easy to know what he has been.

George Sand was one of the most popular authors in Europe when she was alive, more popular even than her contemporaries in the 1830s and 40s, which included Victor Hugo. This, in itself, is no small feat, but it’s made even more impressive when you learn that George Sand was actually a woman with the impressive real name of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil. 

I pulled this quote from Sand’s 1835 book “Lettres d’un voyageur” (Letters of a Traveler), where Sand writes fictional letters as a man to various people. Though the letters are fictional, many draw from her own life and experiences. In this particular letter, Sand is musing on life and age. The letter’s writer here claims that he can summarize everyone’s life story by analyzing his own:

Au commencement, force, ardeur, ignorance. Au milieu, emploi de la force, réalisation des désirs, science de la vie. Au déclin, désenchantement, dégoût de l’action, fatigue,—doute, apathie;—et puis la tombe qui s’ouvre comme un livre pour recevoir le pèlerin fatigué de sa journée.
(In the beginning, strength, ardor, ignorance. In the middle, use of force, realization of desires, science of life. In decline, disenchantment, disgust for action, fatigue—doubt, apathy;—and then the tomb which opens like a book to receive the pilgrim tired of his day. )

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the takeaway is this: you may know who you were in the past, but your life is constantly being written and rewritten. 

4. “L’homme est suffisamment pourvu des moyens nécessaires pour satisfaire tous les véritables besoins de sa condition terrestre, s’il se fie à ses sens et les perfectionne de manière à ce qu’ils méritent toujours sa confiance.”

By: Johann Wolfgang Goethe

English translation: Man is sufficiently provided with the necessary means to satisfy all the true needs of his earthly condition, if he trusts his senses and perfects them in such a way that they always merit his confidence.

You probably recognize the name Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He was a Jack of all trades, writing poetry, plays, novels as well as contributing to the world of science and math in his lifetime. This quote is from his “Maximes et réflexions” (Maxims: Life and Character), which, as the name implies, is a collection of maxims and musings on life. 

Each maxim is provided in isolation, sort of like philosophical shower thoughts, so there’s no context for this one—but I like to see this quote as reassuring. You have everything you need to live a comfortable life if you just take care of yourself and trust your senses and intuitions. 

5. “Pleurer est doux, pleurer est bon souvent pour l’homme.”

By: Victor Hugo

English translation: Crying is sweet, crying is often good for man.

You undoubtedly know “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” but did you know that Victor Hugo also wrote poetry?  This quote is from the poem “To. L” written in 1840 and collected in the anthology “Les rayons et les ombres” (Rays and Shadows).

A lot of his poetry seems to be him praying for things he thinks need divine intervention, like France or the entire 18th century (clearly he was pretty disheartened by a lot of things). But according to this quote, sometimes crying is good for the soul. 

Here’s the full quote from the stanza in the poem: 

Si, près de toi, quelqu’un pleure en rêvant, 
Laisse pleurer sans en chercher la cause.
Pleurer est doux, pleurer est bon souvent
Pour l’homme”
(If, near you, someone cries while dreaming,
Let them cry without looking for the cause.
Crying is sweet, crying is often good
For man)

6. “Sans mouvement la vie n’est qu’une léthargie.”

By: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

English translation: Without movement, life is just lethargy.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher and writer, known for his musings on society and the nature of humanity. This quote comes from his unfinished book, “Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire” (The Reveries of the Solitary Walker), in which he writes his thoughts and observations as he goes on 10 different walks. 

This quote is from the fifth walk, where he talks a lot about mortality and what it means to get old. It continues: 

Sans mouvement la vie n’est qu’une léthargie. Si le mouvement est inégal ou trop fort, il réveille; en nous rappelant aux objets environnants, il détruit le charme de la rêverie, et nous arrache d’au dedans de nous, pour nous remettre à l’instant sous le joug de la fortune et des hommes et nous rendre au sentiment de nos malheurs. Un silence absolu porte à la tristesse.
(Without movement, life is just lethargy. If the movement is uneven or too strong, it wakes you up; by reminding us of surrounding objects, it destroys the charm of reverie and tears us from within ourselves, to immediately put us back under the yoke of fortune and men and restore us to the feeling of our misfortunes. Absolute silence leads to sadness.)

I don’t know about you but that makes me want to get out there and move, even if it’s just taking a brief walk. 

7. “Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit.”

By: Charles Baudelaire

English translation: This life is a hospital where each patient is possessed with the desire to change beds. 

French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote this variation on the concepts of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence. It comes from a conversation with his soul, where he further explains:

Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu’il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre. Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas… .
(This one would like to suffer in front of the stove, and this one thinks he would get well next to the window. It seems to me that I will always be happy where I am not… .)


I hope these musings make you stop and think about your own view on life. At the end of the day, perhaps the best French quote about life is the most well-known one: “C’est la vie!” (Such is life)!

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