Tuesday, July 05, 2011

`Think of Forgetting the Past'

Two slightly fanciful etymologies pertinent to writers:

Elegance: from the Latin eligere, to select with care, to exercise discrimination in choice. Elegance in writing need not be foppish or purple, though “elegant” once suggested “fastidious, dainty.” Good writing is elegant in not being “natural,” an unedited transcription. One trusts the first thought, but not for long.
Obey: from oboedire, to pay attention to, to “give ear” (ob + audiere = to listen to). A writer “obeys” the sensory world, his own best judgment and the voice of tradition. He never works alone. He listens and collaborates with what he hears. The best writing is never strictly original, if such a thing could even exist. Only hackneyed writers (and readers) value novelty for its own sake.
“Sonatina in Yellow” (Collected Poems, 2004) by Donald Justice embodies both derivations:
Think of the past. Think of forgetting the past.”
“Listen and forget. Practice forgetting.”

1 comment:

David W. Sanders said...

I like this post. Don Justice's poems always calls to mind the Winters' quote "Write little, and write well."
I notice you grabbed it from Ashley McHugh's blog. Are you familiar with her book, which won the New Criterion Award last year? It's called Into These Knots. It's a knockout.