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Literary Tattoos

Some people get tattoos of their love interest, their mom, their kids, or their pets.  Others get cool things like skulls and crossbones.  Then there are those out there who get tattoos based on movies, books, or comic books.  Below you’ll find a collection of some of the best literary tattoos on the web.  They are good either because of their overall design, their placement, or their message.  Enjoy.

So Much Depends


Based on the William Carlos Williams poem The Red Wheelbarrow, this tattoo has a picture of a red wheelbarrow.  What would you do without me?  The poem, a short little thing, goes like this:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Believe it or not, this poem is considered one of Williams’ most masterful poems.  Obviously there is something under the surface, and if you care to read a slew of critical essays on this little poem you are in luck.  Just look on the internet.

Ultra Violent Literary Tattoo

clockwork orange

This considerate girl posed for this photograph with the book that inspired her tattoo.  I wonder if she was listening to “Lovely Ludwig Van” while this photo was taken.

The Catcher in the Rye Tattoo

The following tattoos reference J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye.  Shoot, if you get profiled for carrying the book, what do they think of you if you have the tattoo?  Plus, what would Salinger have said?  Probably nothing, on account of that whole not caring about the general masses thing he had going on.

catcher in the rye

You might recognize this design from the cover of the book.  The design was drawn by E. Michael Mitchell, a beloved illustrator and animation artist.

ask her if she still keeps all her kings in the back row

Holden Caulfield, knowing that his roommate is taking out a girl whose family used to vacation near Holden’s family, asks if Jane “still keeps all her kings on the back row,” because that’s what she used to do when they played checkers together.

its history its poetry

Mr. Antolini, even though he is characterized by some readers as kind of a creep, had something pretty great to say:

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused or frightened or even sickened by human behavior.  You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know.  Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now.  Happily, some of them kept record of their troubles.  You’ll learn from them – if you want to.  Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.  It’s a beautiful arrangement.  And it isn’t education.  It’s history.  It’s poetry.”

Shel Silverstein Literary Tattoos

We all loved his poems growing up.  Some people loved them so much they had them, or something about them, tattooed on themselves.

if you are a dreamer

From the poem The Invitation.  “If you are a dreamer, come in.  If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…If you’re a pretender, come site by my fire for we have some flax-golden tales to spin.  Come in!  Come in!”

giving tree

The Giving Tree.  Great stuff.

giving tree 2

Also from The Giving Tree.  A great tattoo for a mom.

Edgar Allen Poe Tattoos

People love Poe. People love tattoos.

all that we see or seem

Poe – A Dream Within A Dream.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


They loves his squishy, spooky face.

poe insane

They even put his quotes around their, ahem, chesticles.

The Little Prince

A much-loved book by Antoine Saint-Exupery, Le Petit Prince is one of the best-selling books ever.  I myself own three copies of the French version, four copies of the English version.  Am a dork.

and now here is my secret

From The Little Prince.  The full translated quote says “Here is my secret.  It is very simple:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  The tattoo above leaves out the bit about simplicity.  Maybe on purpose?

it is only with the heart that one can see rightly

and in a literary tattoo from The Little Prince in English

the little prince

She must really love that book.

Oscar Wilde Tattoos

Famous wit, social martyr, Oscar Wilde.


From Phrases and Philosophies for the use of the Young.  Molding young minds.  That’s our Oscar and his quotes make for some of the most sarcastic literary tattoos.

wilde 2

From “The Soul of a Man Under Socialism.”

salome aubrey beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley did all sorts of bawdy pictures, but when it came to illustrating Oscar Wilde’s Salome, the result was ethereal, weird, bizarre, disturbing, and beautiful.  So this hot girl decided to get it tattooed on herself.

Shakespeare Tattoos

There are lots and lots of Shakespearean literary tattoos out there.  Here is just a taste.


“ay, there’s the rub.”


A Midsummer Day’s Tattoo.

to thine ownself be true

Rock me sexy Polonius.

Ray Bradbury


Pretty tattoo.  Weird poem.

farenheit 451

A tattoo inspired by Ray Bradbury’s awesome dystopian novel Farenheit 451. Probably the most badass literary  tattoo on this list.

Sylvia Plath Tattoos

Sad lady.  Good writer.  Nice tattoos.

i have the choice

Looks kind of like she scribbled it on her arm, but that’s OK.

i listened to the old bray of my heart

Bray or brag?  The internet has it misquoted all over the place.

tulips plath

Prettiest Plath tattoo ever?

Alice in Wonderland

There are WAY more of these out there, but here are a few.

Were all mad here

yes we are.


Nothing like a Jabberwocky tramp stamp to bring all the literary boys to the yard.

if i had a world of my own

Preach, Alice.

Miscellaneous Literary Tattoos

These are not grouped, because there are so many from so many different inspirational sources.


A decent book, by a suicidal author.

answer the first one first

“What kind of idea are you?  Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cursed, bloody-minded ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze?”  From The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.

atlas shrugged

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”  Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.

augusten burroughs

from the controversial author Augusten Burroughs and his memoir Magical Thinking.

We will be gathering more literary tattoos for a part II. Look in the related links below.

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  1. Pingback: Literary Tattoos Part Deux | Digital Bus Stop

  2. These are beautiful!

  3. I also have a tattoo from the little prince

    “it is such a secret place, the land of tears”

  4. the path to hell is paved with good intentions….

  5. Wednesday says:

    I have 3 tattoos from books. I have 2+2=4 on the back of my neck or George Orwell’s 1984; a test tube containing the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World then I have a pirate flag for the character Ragnar in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

  6. I’ve got one on my shoulder from To Kill A Mocking Bird, where Dolphus Raymond explains to the children that he is not a drunk, just socially aware.
    “If they can latch onto a reason…”

  7. Samantha McBride says:

    I have a tattoo that I want to contribute! It’s from Tom Robbins book, Still Life With Woodpecker

  8. You’re missing a Harry Potter section. There are a bunch of them out there. I even have one! :-)

  9. Anonymous says:

    harry potter isn’t literature.

  10. so it goes.

    Slaughterhouse 5

  11. Anonymous says:

    that catcher in the rye shin tat is mine! haha
    -angelica, oklahoma

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  13. Anonymous says:

    can you not say “a great book by a suicidal author.” Sylvia plath was also suicidal but you didnt say anything about her.

    Just comment on the amazing authors and beautiful tattoos instead please.

  14. Anonymous says:

    her heart *bragged* “i am. i am. i am.” …i’ve read it elsewhere.

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  17. With regard to the Atlas Shrugged tattoo, I have on my ankle an Anthem-inspired light bulb with the word “ego” written in wire. For those who have read the book, there is an absolute meaning to be seen: dystopian collective society, primitive in technology, individual thought is forbidden. One man rises up and breaks the law to pursue his passion: science. In the process of doing so, he reinvents electricity, a commodity that had since been lost during previous apocalyptic wars and disaster. “Ego” in the novelette is a forbidden word that, if spoken, will be met by public execution, for all are equal and selfishness has been eliminated. It is a tribute to the resistance.
    For those who have not read the book (or for those who have, but who are also open to a little critical thinking), I say that the light bulb is a metonymic adage for human productivity, progress, and technology, and my “ego” is a banner that I cannot betray, for our wellbeing and psychological health is rooted in the self.

  18. That Fahrenheit 451 tattoo is mine! Tx for posting that….If you’d like I’ll send pics of my Hunter S. Thompson piece too.

    John – Detroit, MI