You probably looked at this title and wondered if I’ve made a mistake. Writing is all about getting words out of you, isn’t it? In a way, yes, but I wanted to spend my first post of 2016 by talking about the great thing that can happen if you learn something by heart and carry it around with you for the rest of your life. I think it’s the closest we can come in the real world to casting a spell and, as I love stories about magic, that has to be a good thing.
How does the magic work? Find the right words and you have the key to unlocking a deeper way of seeing something, or finding the right emotion to put to an experience. Perhaps you’ve seen it done at a special family event, when someone has found a poem or a song that sums up the feelings everyone has? The most famous film version of this is in Four Weddings and a Funeral, a classic rom-com, where a character choses the poem ‘Stop all the clocks’ by W H Auden – it’s the part of the film I remember most as it is so powerful.
So what’s the process? Learning is easiest to do when you’re memory is at its best – that’s when you are under 25 – but worth doing later as well. I had a boring summer job between school and university so spent my breaks learning poetry to brighten my day. I still remember vast amounts of what I learned during those six weeks and can conjure them up when I see something that sparks them off. (Word of warning – you will get personal satisfaction from this but don’t assume your best friends will enjoy it as much! Use your spells sparingly and mostly privately.) So how do I then go on to use them? See a fantastic autumnal sunset and I can capture it with a word snap with a bit of Keats.
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue
Want to complain about homework, why not a bit of Philip Larkin?
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
One of my favourite poets is Gerard Manley Hopkins. If I see something one a walk where humans seem to have spoiled nature, his poetry always comes to mind.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things
I feel a bit like Hermione Granger going around with my wand and making things fly – Wingardiam Leviosa – yes, I also quote Harry Potter. See, it doesn’t have to be a bit of poetry you quote, but just some powerful words that connect you to something else.
Another source of magic spells are songs. Who at the moment can say ‘hello’ without the rest of the line from Adele coming to mind? Do you have a song that cheers you up? Mine is ‘Riptide’ by Emma Stevens – partly the music but also the words. If I need stirring up, I’ll play that and dance around the kitchen, barked at by bemused dogs.
And of course there is the words for love. ‘The Good-Morrow’ by John Donne is my poem for this, something my husband and I have said to each other. It has the fabulous lines:
And now good morrow to our waking souls,
which watch not one another out of fear
It helps to have a professional who has said it better than you can when you really want to tell someone something heartfelt. So learning stuff to have it at your tongue’s tip is a rewarding skill to pick up. Have a go and see what happens when you next cast a spell.
I’ll leave you with a favourite that I think of when I send my books out to my readers. It’s also a love poem but it works too for the connection between author and the one reading her work. You might know it as it is by W B Yeats.
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.