I am currently taking a Victorian Literature class, and I like it more than I originally anticipated. Not only is that time period endlessly fascinating to me, with all of these authors struggling with science and faith and nature and grace and how they can all interact with each other, or even if there is some possible harmony to be attained for all of those things, but the writing that was produced during that time period is a beautiful representation of the real dissonance that is floating between so many life experiences. (Ya know, speaking into the middle.)
When we first started reading Tennyson, I was fully aware of the fact that this was one of the guys that I was supposed to like. Ya know, to add to my “canon” of literature that I can intelligently discuss. We spent an entire week and a half talking about In Memoriam, and I very sincerely enjoyed going to class every single day. I underlined the poem like crazy, and could not wait to talk to my entire class about why I loved it so much. If you don’t know already, In Memoriam is 133 section poem written by Tennyson about his close friend Hallam who died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage. It is a massive piece of literature that depicts a really honest process of grief covering a variety of things that can’t even really be articulated.
Now, I know that that idea seems to be contradictory, but that is also the reason I think that poetry is so important. Poetry has no motivation of trying to articulate something accurately, but only to speak even more into the fact that there are so many things in life that can only be talked about abstractly, but even the abstractness is comforting, because it represents a recognition, a feeling of familiarity.
I think Tennyson sort of talks about this in section 5 of In Memoriam:
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
” But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
” In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.
Poetry demands simplicity. It demands thoughtfulness. It demands a responsible use of words, and it usually demands a fewer amount of them.
One of the hardest parts about living in a Christian community for me is the constant use of really hefty words that are so easily thrown around without much thought or consideration. Now, before I go much further, let me preface all of what I am about to say with making it clear that I am also talking about myself, and the habits that become easy to me living in a place like I do.
Anyway, when we don’t treat language with care, when we say things we don’t mean, or when we use too many words to make people feel things that aren’t founded, we can find ourselves in a serious mess. We have the potential to seriously hurt people, more than we ever intended. And, I’m not talking about dishonesty necessarily, I am just talking about responsibility.
So maybe I am just trying to say that we should speak more poetically. Now, I don’t mean that we should speak like annoying little Shakespearean weirdos (although there are times for that..), but let us talk with responsibility.
Let’s use fewer words.
Let those words mean more.
And let our language demand simplicity.