The Weight of a Pen

I am somehow always grieved at the end of all my writing. I long to write what I can never express; thoughts and emotions too great, or perhaps too infinitesimal. I can only stare, lost in wonder and the silence of the impotent word. True, some one or other fancy, fact, or opinion might blot its way across the the written page; but the deeper things –the real things; the things one feels and longs to share — those things never quite translate. But God knows this. Of course He knows this. And He set it down that we might know as well:

“The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy (Proverbs 14:10).

This of course, is both a saving and a bitter providence for one enamored of the art of speech; saving in that it loosens the burden of communication (thereby freeing the pen) and bitter in that the longing to do so still remains.

It comforts me to know that others have grappled much in the same way—comforts me still more to run across their printed frustrations and recognize sentiments akin to my own. Indeed, it is sometimes given to a man or woman — one in the proverbial million, I would say — to convey the heart of the multitude. Somehow these blessed souls contrive to articulate those thoughts at which the rest of us vaguely guess. However, when we spy our silent hearts dancing ‘cross the written page, we snap our collective fingers and gratefully assert, “Yes! That is precisely how I feel!” This connection, I believe, is the mark of good writing. And if that be the case, the following represents some of Russell’s finest. Never have I encountered anyone who so keenly understood—and conveyed—my own thoughts on writing.

“There are heaps of things I would like to do, but there is no time to do them. The most gorgeous ideas float before the imagination, but time, money, and alas! inspiration to complete them do not arrive, and for any work to be really valuable we must have time to brood and dream a little over it, or else it is bloodless and does not draw forth the God light in those who read. I believe myself, that there is a great deal too much hasty writing in our magazines and pamphlets. No matter how kindly and well-disposed we are when we write we cannot get rid of the essential conditions under which really good literature is produced, love for the art of expression in itself; a feeling for the music of sentences, so that they become mantrams, and the thought sings its way into the soul. To get this, one has to spend what seems a disproportionate time in dreaming over and making the art and workmanship as perfect as possible. I could if I wanted, sit down and write steadily and without any soul; but my conscience would hurt me just as much as if I had stolen money… To do even a ballad as long as The Dream of the Children, takes months of thought, not about the ballad itself, but to absorb the atmosphere, the special current connected with the subject. When this is done the poem shapes itself readily enough; but without the long, previous brooding it would be no good. So you see, from my slow habit of mind and limited time it is all I can do to place monthly, my copy in the hands of my editor when he comes with a pathetic face to me.”[1]


[1] George William Russell, “Letter to Mrs. T. P. Hyatt” (1895), as appeared in the Canadian Theosophist Volume 20, #1 (1939)

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