As a writer and poet, I spend a lot of time thinking about words: not just how to use them, but what they are and how they are put together. I once studied linguistics (quite unsuccessfully, I might add) and a part of that subject is Morphology, the study of what a word actually is. I can’t claim to have mastered Morphology – in fact I’d much rather have spent the time watching this:
but it set me off on a path; the path of thinking about words. Crosswords are another good way to think about words: how they work, how they are put together, what anagrams can be made from what, and so on. And it seems to me that words are the stuff of life. Words are special: words are holy.
I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. It’s no coincidence that the central plank of state oppression in Orwell’s ‘1984’ is the language. INGSOC spends its time in reducing the number of words in the dictionary and citizens are punished for using obsolete ones; whilst the government renders meaningless those which are left (‘War is peace; freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’).
Words are never mere words, though Hamlet might seem to say so: words are holy; words are precious. The Bible starts with one and so does the Biblical version of history: (‘in the beginning was the word’)
The word was not only there in the beginning, it was ‘with God’ and it ‘was God’. You can’t get much clearer than that.
And yet what does it really mean? Orthodox Christians would presumably say that ‘the word’ refers to Scripture, though nothing was Scripted for a long while after. But I think it means something much more esoteric to do with the fundamental nature of truth and the holiness of words. Mantras are words; prayers are words and poems are words, and at their best they all approach each other. This is not to say that what a poet writes is somehow ex cathedra, but that poetry, like prayer and scripture, approaches sublimity.
Words are powerful. In Harry Potter, the most powerful part of a spell is the incantation, or form of words, used to cast it. Names, as my other half will attest, are deeply significant; they are the word which is you. Words are important: words can cast light or darkness; they can lift up or cast down. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can finish me off.
As a poet, I try to master words. But in order to master anything, you have to first go along with it. You have to listen, to understand and to know what it is you are dealing with. So that, when I split words up to make new ones I always do it along fault-lines. It’s like working with flints: you have to understand how the thing is made; where it came from and what its range of allusion is. Then you can start to work.
OK that’s enough for today, me lovelies. See you on the other side…