“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

The Purpose of Words

The words, these words, appeared And since then, we hold them in esteem. More dear than the winter night’s breeze– Than any of the meaning we seem now unable to retrieve. The words, these words, have dissected, Labeled and laid claim. They have classified and cataloged What was once but mystery. They have caged and tamed A wild animal, Not through the strength Of their bars, But through the depth Of their illusions. It is not their hold on us That keeps us locked away, But our hold on them, Our fear of living without them, Our terror of the unknown. For, if the words, these words, be called bars Then we are but ghosts– And no cell can keep a soul From its source. Poetry is all that’s left to “show” me What can’t be “told” to me with any accuracy. I said, a line of verse takes you to the place. A line of prose takes you in reverse. From the place to the words, Rather than the words to the place. I say, when words become visions Their purposes are grand, But when visions become but words, Leading to nothing but more logic, Their purposes are illusory and absurd! Words are a stand-in, A symbol for the real. But we mistake them, Receive them like the real. From what comes poetry’s accuracy? Why, it comes from your inability To take it seriously. Poetry is artistry And art has no end. Its only end is its means, And its means are never ending. A poem can open your Eyes To what an essay takes care to Deny. An essay tries to spell it all out, While a poem leaves mere words In doubt. A poem, as T.S. Elliot says, does not ask, “What is it?” Instead, it says “Let us go and make our visit!” To tell The Truth in words Is to use the words as bait. If the meaning bites, The reader catches. If not, the line is worthless. Words are rafts for crossing rivers, Not paddles for navigating them.

Originally posted March 13th, 2007







One response to “The Purpose of Words”

  1. Andras Magagna Avatar
    Andras Magagna

    I think how words are oft times treated a perfect example of what happens when representation is identified with presentation. It is this identification of representation with presentation that allows paradox.

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