The Power of Words*
—Letitia Elizabeth Landon
'Tis a strange mystery, the power of words!
Life is in them, and death. A word can send the crimson colour hurrying to the cheek.
Hurrying with many meanings; or can turn the current cold and deadly to the heart.
Anger and fear are in them; grief and joy are on their sound; yet slight, impalpable:--
A word is but a breath of passing air.
*The structure of this poem has been altered to fit the space. To see the poem in its intended form, click here.
My daughter was a victim of hate speech this weekend. I keep checking in with her to make sure she's okay, and while she says it's fine, I know it cut deep. Words are powerful.
What's the rhyme? Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me? It's a nice idea, isn't it? It's just not true. A broken bone heals, and the pain is temporary. Some words can stay with you a long time, even forever.
The woman who said the unkind things is not well- homeless and suffering from mental illness, she was frustrated about a situation and lashed out at the nearest person. That still doesn't excuse it. I empathize with the woman—she has a hard life—but I also feel so much anger toward her. I know my daughter already knew the world was cruel. She sees it at school, on television, hears stories online, and reads about it. When it is personal, when it is directed at you, or someone you love, it's different. It becomes real.
I am not speaking for my daughter. She has her own feelings about what happened. I guess I am speaking for me. For other people who have been the victim of harmful words but don't speak up.
Sometimes the harm is self-inflicted. Sometimes we use unkind words to label ourselves. We need to stop. We need to love ourselves and feel compassion and empathy toward others. We need to use our words to be kind, stand up for injustice, show love, and bring beauty to the world.
April is National Poetry Month.
This is as good a time as any to start "using your words". So far this month, I have read, or listened to poetry about pain, love, sacrifice, dogs, war, family, and nature. Words—powerful words meant to make you think. To make the world beautiful.
I haven't always enjoyed poetry. I was never sure if I was reading it right, if I paused where the poet intended, and so on. I think a lot people feel this way. That's why hearing someone speak a poem out loud- whether it's the poet or someone interpreting and performing another's poetry, can be eye opening. Spoken-word poetry has made a comeback. Come to think of it, maybe it never went out of style. It could have just been underground, waiting for its time again.
I think when many people hear the term spoken-word poetry, they think of something similar to Mike Meyers' character in "So I Married an Axe Murderer".
My mind always goes to Shel Silverstein. I grew up with his wonderful words.I have a few CDs of him reading his poetry, and they are wonderful. One of my favorites is Sick:
Modern spoken word poetry is performed in coffee shops, bars, at open mic nights in clubs, in libraries, to sold-out crowds in amphitheaters, and online.
Shane Koyczan is a wonderful poet, who shares a lot of himself in his poetry. I suggest you listen to this short radio interview with Shane Koyczan. He speaks about why words are so powerful, and he performs one of his poems, For Many. I think you'll enjoy it- give it a listen.