Ode to Words

Words.

They are neither virtue nor emotion.

But they have the power to bring forth both.

There’s a modern day author who writes fantasy novels named Patrick Rothfuss. I’ve never read any of his work, but he said something perfect about words:

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

This is the emotional impact words can have. We can motivate, persuade, argue, show love. They are our key tool to expressing emotion.

With words carefully penned, an author can write a book that motivates all its readers. With artfully crafted words, a speaker can persuade an entire crowd. With skillfully chosen words, one can speak out against lies and argue for the greater good. With delicate, hand-picked words, a man can profess his love to a woman, or a mother can comfort her trembling child.

For better or for worse, words have defined our past, and they will determine our future. They change people, and they change the world.

I’m sure you’re familiar with these verses from Genesis 1: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” The creation story continues in the same way; each day, God speaks a new thing into existence, and this new part of creation is good. God uses his power through words to create, to create good.

In the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther nailed his words to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, forcing Christians to challenge the beliefs and traditions which they previously accepted without question. His words changed the future of Christianity.

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Julius Hubner, 1878

William Shakespeare wrote the words of King Henry V’s Crispin Day speech over 400 years ago, but still today those same words have power to stir our hearts and inspire us. They push us toward bravery and loyalty.

In more recent years, Winston Churchill gave speeches that altered the course of nations. Churchill led his country through the dark bloodiness of war by giving encouraging, inspiring, and powerful words to keep unity among his people.

The words of poetry and song, even encouragement or a moving story, also have a simple beauty to them. They are pleasing to listen to. When you’re listening to someone speak a foreign language, you don’t understand the meanings behind their words, but don’t you still appreciate their beauty? How each word builds on the last and how they flow together in a rushing, rippling stream of sentence? The famous author and screenwriter Truman Capote said, “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.” In a similar way, James Michener, a historical fiction author, said, “I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” These two authors showed us how we can use words beautifully to express the beauty of words.

The message they send can also be beautiful. Whether it be one of love or courage or gratefulness, it can honor God or even reflect the beauty of his creation. The first two stanzas of a poem describing snow by Emily Dickinson read:

snow“It sifts from Leaden Sieves –

It powders all the Wood.

It fills with Alabaster Wool

The Wrinkles of the Road –

It makes an even Face

Of Mountain, and of Plain –

Unbroken Forehead from the East

Unto the East again -”

Hear the rhyme and rhythm. The words roll off the tongue and delight the ear. They have elegance and perfect poise.

Poems like this can even be put to song, creating a perfect marriage between music and words. Think about the Psalms- they were poetry set to music for worship. Now listen to your favorite song in your head.

Take away the music. What is left? The words. An excellent poem.

Words can also have artistry when joined with pen and paper. Written words can be doubly beautiful: in themselves and in how they appear on a thoughtfully written page. Think of the Declaration of Independence. The whole document is superbly written, and there is even a certain beauty to the signatures at the bottom. I have a friend who’s trained in calligraphy. Whenever I see her writing, I imagine the monks of the middle ages, meticulously writing out the entire Bible by hand, giving each letter flourishes and swirls and decorations. Everything she writes, no matter what it says, is gorgeous. Even watching her write is fascinating because she joins the loveliness of the words with that of handwriting.

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In the same way that an artist uses tools such as paint brushes and easels, we use tools to communicate. If we use our tools appropriately, they can motivate, persuade, change the course of history. If they are abused, they can cause argument, divorce, or even war. They’ve been used by all the heroes of ages past, but also by all the villains. The most powerful emperor in the world uses them as equally as the poorest beggar on the street. Toddlers can aimlessly slather words across their tongues, but with age and practice, we can sharpen our words into a vicious blade or train them to paint a lovely picture.

Words are not just a form of communication. They are the form of communication. They are a gift given equally to everyone- the toddlers, the beggars, the emperors, and the villains. We all decide how to use them. Use the power of words to influence. Don’t manipulate. Encourage. Strengthen. Create and appreciate the beauty of songs and poems. Their words have the power to start things. As Emily Dickinson said,

“A word is dead

When it is said,

Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

That day.”

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3 thoughts on “Ode to Words

  1. The only rule in my classroom (regarding behavior) is “Words matter, actions matter.” I let the students figure out over the course of the year what that means exactly. Your writing is a great demonstration of the first half of that. Nice work!

    Like

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