Less is more

I love words. Layered and simply complex, they speak to me in all their composite glory. Roots and suffixes; a whole story from genesis to finale can be contained in a single noun or verb. Synonyms, antonyms, definitions, etymology; I get a special thrill when I see something in letters on a page that I didn’t before. Like decoding a message meant only for my blue eyes. Rhymes and rhythm, alliteration and lyrical flow; words have indisputable power. By God they are even made flesh. ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Even when we don’t understand them consciously, words can affect us in their use of sound and by the way they appear to us.

Words can be read, written, spoken and heard, all with different effects on the recipients and creators. And while I love to write (though my skills could be improved), or read a good novel, I am finding that words hold even more power over me when they are kept low in numbers. I am learning that I quickly lose the ability to communicate effectively the more words I use, and similarly, I take delight in reading something that conveys a message in as few carefully chosen words as possible. Still detailed, still full of meaning, but without redundancy or superfluous language that only serves to add flair rather than substance. Now, arguably, the amount of words that can succeed at this task varies by opinion, and I have been guilty myself of going on when I should have stopped. But I have found that my own taste and voice is gravitating to a medium that typically says more with less.

Poetry, it appears, in it’s infinite potential and eternal beauty, captures this element of language for me with raw force lately. My creative spark has been somewhat dim lately, and with the usual methods of production and inspiration failing me, I turned to a condensed version of what I had previously found personal satisfaction in. In other words, plainly stated, I used to write for myself, for fun, but very long winded – and have now found fresh joy in using less words to paint the pictures in my mind that I couldn’t seem to get out before. By my bedside, I have a beautiful sanskrit covered book for writing in, and it feels as though it hungers for my words. It eagerly accepts them as they flow freely out of my pencil. My creative fire both fueled and quenched, I feel like I am filled to the brim with letters that can be turned into anything I wish. Like an episode of Word World, I can build my own written reflection of reality.

But it’s not just writing. I am learning to love reading poetry more and more as well. I take the time to savor each word offered me through masters and amateurs alike. Sometimes I wrap myself in the world as they saw it when they put pen to paper, or at other times, I accept the gift of their timeless words for what they mean to me in the moment, but what was likely not intended by them at all. I think some types of scripture are like this. Psalms, proverbs and parables come to mind as words endowed with meaning open to interpretation.

And with that, I’ll share an example to end my wordy post. A fine specimen by Eliza R. Snow. I received her complete works of poetry as a gift some years ago, but only recently started investigating its massive contents. From the little I’ve read, Eliza appears to me as an enigma (much like her sister wife, Emma), and while I don’t share all of her sentiments and views, I sincerely hope to understand her better through her own words (though at times she is too verbose for me). I have come to love this one of hers for reasons that I suspect she may be surprised at. Enjoy.

Prejudice – What is it?

‘Tis not an orb, dispensing light,
Like that which shines in yonder heaven:
‘Tis not a star, that glitters bright,
Like those which deck the crest of even’

‘Tis not a fountain, full and free,
Whence moral beauties sweetly flow,
‘Tis not a harp, whose minstrelsy,
Can intellectual charms bestow.

‘Tis not a pinion, form’d to bear,
The mind, where reasons troops resort:
‘Tis not a chart, directing where,
Investigation holds his court.

‘Tis not a knight inspir’d to win,
The highest mental prize, forsooth:
‘Tis not a monitor within,
Which prompts a search for ev’ry truth.

It is a clog, prepar’d to hold,
The noble pow’rs of Reason down –
A curtain, whose thick sable fold,
The strongest vision seems to bound,

It is a charm, infusing deep,
A deadly, soporific spell;
Which lulls the faculties asleep,
And tamely whispers, “All is well.”

It is a bolt, whose massy weight,
The strength and skill of truth, defies:
The prison wall, before whose gate,
Bold common sense, afrighted flies.

It is a fetter, made to bind,
Inquiry’s impulse, from the soul;
While Ign’rance sways the human mind,
And ev’ry pow’r of thought controls.

(poem 64, page 118, published in Quincy Whig, 4 July 1840)

What do words mean to you? How do you use them?


Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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7 Responses

  1. nat kelly says:

    WORDS! Words are my favorite. All I want to do, all the time, is devour them. I ache at the thought of all the books I want to read RIGHT NOW.

    And it’s not just what the words say – its the words themselves. The way they look on paper, the experience of soaking them in with my eyes.

    The best literary description I’ve heard for my feelings towards words is from Poisonwood Bible:

    “When the rain pours down especially, we have long hours of captivity, in which my sisters determinedly grow bored. But are there books, books there are! Rattling words on the page, calling my eyes to dance with them. Everyone else will finish with the singular plowing ahead, and Ada still has discoveries ahead and behind.”

  2. spunky says:

    Beautiful. I needed this today. Nothing to add. 🙂

  3. Caroline says:

    Yes, I loved reading your reflections about words. I enjoy them too — my Latin background helps me to break them apart and find interesting nuances in them sometimes.

    I have never gotten much into poetry. Right now I prefer to form long-lasting relationships with characters in big juicy novels. But at some point, I think I will turn to poetry. If anyone has any recommendations in particular, let me know. 🙂

    Also, thanks for putting up that poem by E. Snow. I’ve studied her stuff here and there in classes, but she’s rather impenetrable a lot of the time. I guess that what happens when you become THE poet for your time/place and everyone wants you to write poems to celebrate anniversaries, special gatherings, great events, etc. But this poem you put here give more of a window to her thoughts then we usually see.

    • Corktree says:

      I wish I had more education in latin – most of it is medical based. But one of my favorites, broken down, is compassion. I’ve been trying to understand what it really means lately in different contexts, and it’s very surprising, considering that the root of passion, pati, means to have pity or suffer. I just love that it basically works out to “suffer together” in my mind, and I try to remember that when I look at the places in my life that could use a little more it, especially when I think of how Christ used it.

  4. Jana says:

    Today I went to a poetry reading, the first in far too long. I kind of hate the poetry reading voice (it reminds me a bit too much of the Relief Society voice–too performative). But I loved the way the words hung in the air around the room where all of us geeky literary types were sitting. Priceless.

    PS: If I’m ever in a terrible funk (and it happens), I get a certain friend to do a reading of this poem (warning: it’s more than a bit raunchy): http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/subterranean-gnomesick-blues-or-the-gnome-who-whet-my-fleshy-tent
    Never fails to make me giggle. Never.

  5. Corktree says:

    I still can’t get “So I married an axe murder” out of my head when I picture poetry readings, but I’ve heard that they can be quite powerful when done well.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Lol! Me too 🙂 I really love hearing live poetry. The most recent poem I heard performed live was at one of the activities at PYAR where we did a talent show. There is a talented young woman who was a bit nervous to share her poems, but when she started speaking her voice became strong and carried throughout the auditorium. It was beautiful.

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