First Is the Word …

Image, right? Video, pictures, photos, memes–the visual. I appreciate the gift of the visual. Undoubtedly. But for me, language trumps it. Words win. Language. The power of the written and spoken word.

Returning to my apartment today after a day at the lake with my fellow soldiers, the sun threw golden fingers all over the pines and kudzu-filled scrubs along the ditches, and the grasses were deep green from lightning and thunderstorms over the last four days. I smelled the mimosas and dogwoods and honeysuckle, pungent as almost nothing else haunting memory.

When I got in and cooled off, I opened one of the novels currently on my list, William Gay’s Provinces of Night, and read this, and realized once again why, first is the word:

There was something oddly restful about the fireflies. He couldn’t put his finger on it but he drew comfort from it anyway. The way they’d seemed not separate entities but a single being, a moving river of light that flowed above the dark water like its negative image and attained a transient and fragile dominion over the provinces of night. (161)

This series of sentences follows a tender series of scenes in which a young man, Fleming, and a lass, Raven Lee, have met, and they’ve grown curious about one another and about their possible future and their possible roads ahead. And then the image of the fireflies, temporary in their fleeting deluvial dominion, sums it up. Beautiful. And all in words.

I am under no illusion that most folks will ever turn to the word for their wisdom or joy. It does, after all, take work.

But when I open a novel this fine, or read of King Lear once again, howling madly at his undoing and of Cornelia’s exiled love, or swing upon birches with Robert Frost, or raft the Mississippi with Huck and Jim, or see Boo Radley behind every ghostly elm with Scout and Jem, first for me is the word.

Press on, wordworkers. I’m with you.

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