"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite." - Clive Staples
This is one of his tips for aspiring writers that I found on Letters of Note. Afraid I'm guilty of this one =/ As an enthusiast, I'm a bit too fond of hyperbole. But this was a great reminder of the value of written words.
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This week Comp Lit was all about T. S. Eliot. Boy is he amazing. My teacher explained that he spoke at least 7 languages and was probably one of the most well-read persons of all time--yah, understatement. In this context I could appreciate his "Tradition and the Individual Talent" so much more. He's not another snobby critic complaining that writers aren't doing it right. He's a writer sharing part of his process and challenging both himself and his audiences to real greatness. "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone." Revelation right there. And that was before he got saved. He argues, "We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet's difference from his predecessors... we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed... the most individual parts of his work may be those n which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously." Powerful--and I agree completely.
As far as his poetry, I am still mulling it over. We read The Wasteland, The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Gerontion, The Hollow Men, and Burnt Norton. Heavy duty, but so incredible. Just a few lines:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume
- The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons"? I cannot get over how genius this line is!
Ok... and one more passage. This one, a bit longer, is from the first of the The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton.
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by the voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.
I have read this half a dozen times now and I'm still sorting the meaning. Eliot said, "The poet is occupied with frontiers of consciousness beyond which words fail, though meaning still exists." I love this. And I'm loving him.
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Last thought, yesterday I had a revelation that rocked me!
Ok, a little background. The Greek conception of "glory" is kleos [κλέος]. Kleos carries with it the idea of later people telling stories of a person's fame. In it's pure form it is the idea that Sam postulates in The Two Towers when he asks, "I wonder if we'll ever be put into songs or tales." The more self-centered, Greek notion is embodied by Achilles who had been given the option between a long-life without kleos or dying young with great kleos and boldly chose to have kleos. I should also note that kleos is masculine and a woman could never be described as having kleos.
After establishing all of that, the revelation I had this week is that the New Testament does not use kleos when it defines God's glory. It uses the feminine doxa [δόξα]. Not only is the word feminine, doxa is the only ancient Greek word for "glory" that can apply to women as well as men. This is incredible!! While God most often identifies Himself as a male, we know that God is neither male nor female. If all of us were made in the image of God, then we display the full spectrum of His being and attributes in the glories of being male and female. So, I am amazed that God would use the inclusive doxa when describing His glory. So cool!