19 November 2013

Word Soup

Let him only find the secret, and there, lying on the page, their printed silence will be green with moss; it will crumble slowly even while it whispers with the thunder of primeval avalanches.
- Poetic Diction, Owen Barfield

My world of words is being turned upside down and shaken (in the best of ways) by Owen Barfield. I feel like his book Poetic Diction is a marvel I am only beginning to understand. It is like discovering a secret of the written world. He published it in 1928. Owen was good friends with C.S. Lewis and was part of The Inklings (the group of literary friends at Oxford). He actually dedicated Poetic Diction to C.S. Lewis, and Lewis regularly referred to it while he wrote, changing many of his passages after realizing he could not keep it that way according to passages in Poetic Diction.

In this book, Barfield writes extensively about how the meaning of a word is already shifting and fading from its origin. A word used as an example, ruin, was used quite differently at its origin which we do not normally use today, and in Shakespeare's writing, he created a new meaning of the word, an imaginative alternative meaning of the word. One that has soul. This is why Shakespeare was a genius.

Barfield refers to that as "unthinking" the original, logical meaning that has no wavering ability and is just simple and solid, into a floaty, wonderful new thing that holds many minds with creative notions and opens new realms of imagination. A word can hold so much more than just a simple meaning, then.

This book is like a manual for writers, mandatory for all who love words. It is opening my whole world of word-love and cracking open a bowl of word soup into me. Barfield discusses detaching from the established meaning of words, and explains how, over the centuries, it has been a huge source of how we view words today. An image that invokes something for us today was not the proper image of that word at one point in the past, but the use of poetic diction (or imagination able to detach from the rules, or thinking outside the box as we would say) allows one to go deeper into the conscious mind and navigate a realm not ruled by logic. This is the realm where The Inklings wrote from.

I have so many inklings of revelations as I read this book. I love how much I am understanding about the history of words and the evolution of their usage. So much to learn about words. This book will definitely be a book to re-read and I will be investigating more books by Owen Barfield.

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