19 June 2008

The Power of Words

This entry appeared in the blog just about one year ago. I repeat it now for the Hillsborough Township Class of 2008.

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit a sentence or two to be read at the Hillsborough Township High School Graduation. I was told it is customary for school board members to impart some "words of wisdom", or advice, in the form of a profound thought or a famous or meaningful quote. Something, perhaps, that I would have wanted to know 25 years ago at my own high school graduation.

Realizing that I would not be able to attend the graduation ceremony this year, I declined to participate in this tradition. But the power of the Blog allows me to reconsider!

When contemplating the impact of spoken language, one need look no further than the short dialogue "The Power of Words" by Edgar Allan Poe. Two angels, one "new-fledged", one older, discuss the physical power of words, and their ability to create. The poetry of the final exchange between the angels is beautiful.

AGATHOS. And while I thus spoke, did there not cross your mind some thought of the physical power of words? Is not every word an impulse on the air?

OINOS. But why, Agathos, do you weep- and why, oh why do your wings droop as we hover above this fair star- which is the greenest and yet most terrible of all we have encountered in our flight? Its brilliant flowers look like a fairy dream- but its fierce volcanoes like the passions of a turbulent heart.

AGATHOS. They are!- they are! This wild star- it is now three centuries since, with clasped hands, and with streaming eyes, at the feet of my beloved - I spoke it- with a few passionate sentences- into birth. Its brilliant flowers are the dearest of all unfulfilled dreams, and its raging volcanoes are the passions of the most turbulent and unhallowed of hearts.

But it is an earlier passage from this story that holds the most meaning for me. The young angel, Oinos, believes that since he has now graduated to immortality, he "should be at once cognizant of all things, and thus at once be happy in being cognizant of all."

The wise angel Agathos sets him straight: "Ah, not in knowledge is happiness, but in the acquisition of knowledge! In for ever knowing, we are for ever blessed; but to know all were the curse of a fiend."

Congratulations Class of 2008. Keep learning, be happy. Good luck!

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