The Worth of Words
Like me, you’re probably still holding on to odd bits of knowledge from high school. You might still be able bring up names of capitol cities, or recall who was U.S. President in 1881. You might randomly think of a scene from a Shakespeare play, or from an obscure movie you had to watch in history class.
For whatever reason, I sometimes hear myself quoting lines from poems I memorized in eighth grade. Abou ben Adam is an obscure little verse that I can still recite from start to finish, possibly because it’s a clever tribute to the importance of brotherly love. Casey at the Bat tells us that even our heroes mess up once in a while. And Ozymandias (“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”) Mocks our craving for immortality. It reminds us that even the accomplishments of powerful kings are inevitably destroyed and forgotten.
Lately, I’m remembering the opening lines of a Wordsworth poem,The World is Too Much With Us. I understand why the words resonate with me these days. They suggest that the dream of the planet is closing in on us. It’s consuming us. It’s big, it’s loud, and we don’t stand a chance against it.
Wordsworth lived in the 19th century and, even then, he thought things were getting too modern too fast. He saw mankind growing apart from nature and he was alarmed by it. He dared to think we were better off relying on mythical gods to comfort and guide us, so he fantasized about going back to pagan times.
Imagine how he would have felt about today’s world, where we’ve surrendered our will to the strange new gods that guide us now. He couldn’t have predicted the existence of artificial intelligence, or our reliance on the mighty oracle we carry in our pockets (and consult, minute-by-minute). In this century, the world is always with us. It’s rare for us to seek out the wonders of nature, or marvel at the sight of a field of yellow flowers, as old
William did. It’s rare for us to sit still and reflect.
The world pounds its rhythm into our heads. We have a tough time distinguishing our own thoughts from the thoughts of every other human. Who actually guides our life choices these days? What determines our happiness? And how do we possibly commune with nature through all the noise?
Wouldn’t be great if everyone found the will to turn off that noise? We don’t need to live in the woods in order to sing the lyrics to life. Nothing’s really stopping us from being clear and sincere again. We just need to want it.
For a start, we could stop being guided by opinions. And we could stop using our words to accuse and to hurt. Instead, we could speak in ways that bring people together. We could allow words to expand our imaginations and delight our senses… which is what words were designed to do.
When I was in school, I enjoyed the way a few syllables could be strung together to create a stunning visual effect (“…the road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor…”). I marveled at poets who perfectly described what my senses could barely grasp. I loved the audacity of putting simple words to tender feelings. I still do.
So, when I bring a few verses back to memory, it’s “the world” that doesn’t stand a chance. Miraculously, my mind is steeped in the wonder of an idea. My eyes and ears perceive only beauty– which is what they were designed to do.
I may not be walking past flowered fields, but like Wordsworth, “my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils,” as every heart was designed to do. Give it a go. Read a poem now and then. Beautiful words are always worth our time.
With love, from Barbara