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Daniel Sintos Daniel Sintos
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Writers: Explorers and Translators


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Foreword: Read only when you have a lot of time to spare. This is a paper I wrote a few years back, but the recent discussion about emotions in writing immediately reminded me of it. The original argument involved poets, but I've taken the liberty of editing some parts to make the content more relevant to writers in general. I hope you enjoy!
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Across borders, people have had quarrels primarily based on differences. At times, these quarrels have led to war. During such occasions, it seems that humanity has forgotten what unites us all as one species: our similar genetic codes, our capacity to reason, and above all our shared experience of emotions. In each of these unifying aspects, as well as for the many others that exist, there are men and women who specialize in them so as to bridge the voids that divide us and make ever more real the grounds that unite us. Geneticists, for example, try to discover what in our genetic code makes us human. Mathematicians, philosophers, and theologians exploit our capability to reason as if in testimony to the rest of the world that we are all rational beings no matter who we are. Writers explore the universal emotions that seem to govern our lives, seeking ways to excite them from within us through their works.


However, writers differ greatly from other specialists in their means of advancing their field. Whereas other specialists advance through the use of tested procedures, occasionally modifying it when necessary, writers have constantly found innovative ways of expressing the same universal emotions. Consequently, different genres and styles of writing have erupted through the centuries. Writers have constantly adopted methods that have captivated the people of their times; sometimes, writers have changed a few aspects of the adopted style for individuality, while others have chosen to create new styles for independence from the norm. A notable man, who has changed people's concept of poetry by both adopting old and creating new styles of writing, is William Wordsworth.


Wordsworth followed a new trend of writing poems which started in the late 18th century. This trend, which emphasized on the practice of simplicity in writing, was the cause of what eventually came to be Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads". Writing the "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" to give his reasons for writing in a different style, Wordsworth states that a writer is much like a translator, putting into words complex experiences and passions that people encounter such as love, hate, and despair. He notes that as much as a translator has to compromise, turning meaningful expressions into watered-down translations, writers have to make do with the words available to them to describe such complex emotions. Wordsworth believes, however, that words by themselves would never be able to encapsulate the complexity of these emotions. Therefore, he suggests in "The Preface" that poets can manipulate the event which develops these emotions by using the lower and middle class' manner of speech, narrating events that are familiar to the common people, and depicting these events in an undiscovered way.


The first method Wordsworth recommends is the use of "the language really spoken by men". He reasons that by speaking "a plainer and more emphatic language... our elementary feelings exist in a state of greater simplicity and consequently may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated." However, by using words and manners of speech that are completely alien to the common people, not only do writers isolate their readers but their readers end up concentrating more on understanding the words rather than grasping what these words intend to paint. A good example of how Wordsworth makes use of the language familiar to the lower and middle class can be seen in the following lines:


In March, December, and in July,
'Tis all the same with Harry Gill;
The neighbours tell, and tell you truly,
His teeth they chatter, chatter still.
At night, at morning, and at noon,
'Tis all the same with Harry Gill;
Beneath the sun, beneath the moon,
His teeth they chatter, chatter still!


Young Harry was a lusty drover,
And who so stout of limb as he?
His cheeks were red as ruddy clover;
His voice was like the voice of three.
Old Goody Blake was old and poor;
Ill fed she was, and thinly clad;
And any man who passed her door
Might see how poor a hut she had.


In this poem, Wordsworth describes two characters with the use of the language spoken by ordinary people of his time. With such a familiar language, readers are able to visualize these characters. Since the manner of speech used in the poem is much like their own, readers of the lower and middle class are able to identify with Gill and Blake, and perhaps even make assumptions about their attitudes. It should be noted that Wordsworth also makes use of a simple method to increase a word's effectiveness. In the case above, Wordsworth repeats the word 'chatter', which effectively coincides with the repetitive movement of chattering teeth.


However, there are critics who argue that "Wordsworth's 'simplicity' was deliberately achieved: it was sophisticated and complex, not really simple at all." However, this take on the simplicity meant by Wordsworth is wrong. By stating that a literary work's language must be as close to the common people's language as possible, he does not mean that the writing's connotation should suffer. In fact, throughout "The Preface", Wordsworth hints that sophistication should still exist within literary works despite a simple fa├žade. One could even argue that it is through this simplicity that a writing's complexity is revealed.


In addition to the first method, Wordsworth notes in "The Preface" that writers should make use of events familiar to the common people. This is based on the premise that when presented with a situation familiar to them, people from the lower and middle classes would be more engaged in reading the writer's work. Thus, the "attempt to imitate the manners, as well as the emotions, of human characters" allows readers to relate easily with the characters in the poem. This suggested method can be seen in the following lines:


Poor Susan moans, poor Susan groans;
"As sure as there's a moon in heaven,"
Cries Betty, "he'll be back again;
They'll both be here--'tis almost ten--
Both will be here before eleven."


Poor Susan moans, poor Susan groans;
The clock gives warning for eleven;
'Tis on the stroke--"He must be near,"
Quoth Betty, "and will soon be here,
As sure as there's a moon in heaven."


In this poem, lower and middle class wives will more likely empathize with Susan since they know the anxiety that comes with waiting for a son to return home. They might even laugh as they realize how they would calm themselves by repetitively chanting lines similar to: "He'll be back by eleven as long as there's a moon in heaven." Through such familiar attitudes and situations, Wordsworth captures the attention of his audience and allows them to engage more with the poem.


Wordsworth also explains how writers bring their "feelings near to those of the persons whose feelings [they are] describing." By doing so, the writer is able to sympathize with his audience, helping him to narrate events that are closer to reality. By sympathizing with the daily experiences of the common people, writers are able to present more clearly the impact of universal emotions in the lives of such people. In effect, sharing their own views with the readers about these emotions becomes easier. Social barriers and differences between the poet and the readers are therefore laid down, allowing a more mutual exchange of intellectual ideas.


The third method entails portraying these familiar events and actions in such a way that the reader would see it in a new perspective. This is often done through a play of images within the piece that have fixed stereotypes. By breaking away from these stereotypes, writers can "shock us out of our habitual ways of seeing things." To serve as an example:


Not blither is the mountain roe:
With many a wanton stroke
Her feet disperse the powdery snow,
That rises up like smoke.


To be able to emphasize Lucy Gray's capricious behaviour, Wordsworth takes special note of how she walks. In the stanza quoted above, Wordsworth gives us a sense of the manner with which she walked by painting a picture of a child walking through snowy fields, throwing powdered snow as she goes. With the usual depiction of snow as a symbol for purity and smoke as a sign for impending trouble, Wordsworth combines the two to give readers a sense of how Lucy's wantonness leads to her disappearance later in the poem. Moreover, this combination effectively suggests Lucy's life-in-death situation. Through this example, Wordsworth makes it clear that even an event as simple as a girl walking through a field of snow could have different meanings and suggestions if it were looked at with a new perspective.


As can be seen in these examples, Wordsworth was able to demonstrate that by the use of straightforward methods, he was able to write poems that were no less meaningful and complex than their more sophisticated counterparts. In fact, if anything, he has shown that by making literary pieces simpler in form, their messages become more meaningful and emotions expressed by the characters and insinuated through the events that occur in the writings become livelier. Like a translator who uses expressions of equal gravity to substitute phrases filled with meaning, Wordsworth expresses complex realities such as love, hate, and despair through the use of simple yet meaningful methods in writing.


In addition, it is by moving away from the norms of writing that Wordsworth was able to create a new and effective way of exploring the universal emotions that all humans experience. He has broken the barrier that di


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