When there is substance behind them, the most ordinary words acquire meaning, and so satisfy the senses as ripe nuts falling in the lap of a hungry man might satisfy hunger.

This idea of commonplace words placed uncommonly and so providing nourishment for the mind or spirit was also captured in a poem by Bill Stanton, ‘What’s in a word?’:


What is there in a poem to make me weep?

And how can words, mere words, so wring the heart?

For take one up and weight it, cast its spell,

And say in what it seems remarkable.

This one here, see; it is the very same

That yesterday sold heifers at Smithfield,

And has today bought liquor in a pub,

And may next week be dead as this week’s news.


But place it thus, and give it company

Of fellows, like itself rude fustian men,

And speak them fair, and see what they will do

When their small force shall batter at my door,

How soon the walls will crack and let them through

To overwhelm me with their bitter joy.


‘… words of no beauty, interest, or significance in themselves, it will be conceded, but now so plumped out with meaning that they fell like ripe nuts from a tree, and proved that when the shrivelled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning it satisfies the senses amazingly.’

Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 300, and Bill Stanton, private edition given by the author to his niece, my mother.

Photo credit: Lubos Houska at pixabay.com


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