The power of words is an immensely strong one. Without words we wouldn’t be able to communicate and share ideas, and without the written word it would be impossible to read what others have written.
I recently had an interesting day built on the power of words. During the afternoon I helped to run a class where we discussed, and then attempted to compose our own, poetry. We were a mixed bag, men and women with varying interests, some of whom hadn’t had a huge amount of exposure to poems. I brought along copies of a few different verses: Henry Shukman’s ‘Spring Lamb’, ‘Adrian Henri’s Talking After Christmas Blues’, and A A Milne’s ‘Daffodowndilly’.
We started with the Shukman poem, which evoked a range of responses. The overall feeling was that it was very emotive, started a little sadly and pessimistically, and finished with a happy ending. The language is relatively simple, but the poem does exactly what it sets out to do, it leaves the reader feeling happy and optimistic. We also agreed that it doesn’t follow rigid rules, nor does it rhyme, but it fits in with the theme of renewal that is prevalent at Easter, and therefore in the spring.
We then went on to look at the Adrian Henri which is partly in rhyme, follows some basic patterns, but also breaks them. It conveys human emotions and feelings of loss. We agreed that it was probably a man writing about a broken relationship with his wife or girlfriend, and unlike the previous poem it didn’t have a happy ending. It also drew a response from a widower in our group, who read us a poem that he’d written about his wife after her death. Even though he is not a poet, we were equally touched by his use of words and felt honoured that he offered to share these extremely heartfelt words and emotions with us.
The final piece was ‘Daffodowndilly’, which may seem like a simplistic poem for children, but which is rich in imagery, anthropomorphising a flower. It also provides a surprise in its final line as it juxtaposes the statement ‘Winter is dead’ with the earlier light, colourful imagery of spring. The overall impression was of an informal class that had been enjoyed, and possibly where expectations had been confounded. I’m very much looking forward to the next time we meet.
A couple of hours later I attended a lecture at University College London about the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and of the responses evoked in literature and art to the fact that the queen was past her fertile years, remained unmarried and childless, and there was no successor to follow her to the throne.
This lecture was so skilfully given, and so easy to follow, that it made me wonder why I hadn’t made all these assumptions myself. However, in the hands of another academic, who possibly may not have the gift of explaining and conveying these same theories in a way that was easy to understand, it could easily have turned into a boring and uninteresting hour.
We don’t have to be academics to read and learn from the printed page. We can all enjoy on different levels as the fancy takes us. But what a strange place the world would be without the written word.