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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Sound and Sense of Language

What's the longest speech you've ever listened to? Was it exciting or boring? Why? What makes a speech or sermon interesting to you? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1540).

Following two quotations from: How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi


"W.H. Auden was once asked what advice he would give a young man who wished to become a poet. Auden replied that he would ask the young man why he wanted to write poetry. If the answer was “because I have something important to say,” Auden would conclude that there was no hope for that young man as a poet. If on the other hand the answer was something like “because I like to hang around words and overhear them talking to one another,” then that young man was at least interested in a fundamental part of the poetic process and there was hope for him.

"When one “message-hunts” a poem (i.e., goes through the poem with no interest except in its paraphraseable content) he is approaching the writing as did the young man with “something important to say.” He is giving it the Wigglesworth treatment. The common question from which such an approach begins is “WHAT Does the Poem Mean?” His mind closed on that point of view, the reader tends to “interpret” the poem rather than to experience it, seeking only what he can make over from it into a prose statement (or Examination answer) and forgetting in the process that it was originally a poem."


After English Class

I used to like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking–and adding to–the
The gentle drift of snow . . .

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep–
They all have “hidden meanings.”

It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.


The artificial divide between prose and poetry is very evident in speechmaking.  In a good speech "words play with one another" and the sound and sense of it are inextricable.  Prose too often means boring and, I'm tempted to say, bereft of joy and downright unimaginative--even lazy.  Poetry is not right brain and prose left brain.  Let us not forget the well traversed and abuzz corpus callosum.  Artificially enforced segregation of literary forms with sound on one side and sense on the other brings with it first agony then the somnolence of staid propriety.  The power of language is rooted in the loving interrelationship of sound and sense.

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