From the time we were babies, my mother read to us. Not just children’s stories, either. She read poetry: Poe, Wordsworth, Eugene Field. My favorite of all was “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It is a poem about a dashing criminal and his ladylove, who, in order to warn him that the Redcoats are waiting for him, kills herself. Despite the warning, he is gunned down “like a dog on the highway/ with a bunch of lace at his throat.” Not exactly Dr. Seuss. Still, I loved it. Part of that love came from my mother’s analysis and explanation of rhythm, rhyme and meter. “Listen to the way the words sound,” she said. “It sounds like a horse galloping down a road.” I listened. I heard it. My whole world changed.
From these early experiences bloomed a love of language. I’m fascinated by what words can do. Onomatopoeia thrills me. I dig a good palindrome. Anagrams are amazing. I consider language a gift from God. In communication, we are brought together. Imagine a world where each one of us were bound in his or her own metaphoric prison, unable to communicate our feelings or experiences! How lonely we would be!
So, in the spirit of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty,” I offer this paean to the world of words.
Blessed be to God for the look of letters!
The curve of the “s,” the slick feel on the tongue.
The piquancy of “p,” the feel of “r” as it resonates, roars.
Blessed, too, the sounds —
heavenly diphthongs! Glorious blends!
The sunny way “yellow” glints from the page,
the blank stare of “morose.”
And, oh, for the way words bridge our gaps,
fill our chasms with sound and sense,
bring together the unlikeliest of minds,
smooth over our offenses.
Letters become sound become meaning
and a way is lit to heaven;
we need only to follow them
to find You.