Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Words of Wisdom

We are called to "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). One of the many things I love about books is how a really good writer can express something very poignant and deep, something that really touches the soul but is difficult for us mere mortals to put into words.

I love coming across these gems which give real insight into human nature, clarify deep truths, or inspire the reader. They can be found most often in books by the gifted classic authors, such as this wonderfully patriotic speech by John of Gaunt from Shakespeare's Richard II (Act II scene i).

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise ...
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea ...
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

But I have also found that modern works often include wonderful little nuggets of wisdom. Consider these segments from "Blue Shoes and Happiness" by Alexander McCall Smith.

First, Precious Ramotswe remembers her father:
"One day she would join him, she knew, whatever people said about how we came to an end when we took our last breath. Some people mocked you if you said that you joined others when your time came. Well, they could laugh, those clever people, but we surely had to hope and a life without hope of any sort was no life: it was a sky without stars, a landscape of sorrow and emptiness. If she thought she would never see Obed Ramostswe again it would make her shiver with loneliness. As it was, the thought that he was watching her gave a texture and continuity to her life."

How beautifully the writer, in the person of Precious, expresses that wonderful hope and what it would mean to be without it. In the same book, and from the viewpoint of the same character, he expresses how I feel about swearing - something it took me an entire blog post to convey far less eloquently:

"To use strong language, she thought, was a sign of bad temper and lack of concern for others. Such people were not clever or bold simply because they used such language; each time they opened their mouths they proclaimed 'I am a person who is poor in words.'"

How much we can improve ourselves, our understanding, and our education from such wonderful books! Choosing and reading "the best books" can be an enriching and enlightening experience, and can ultimately help us become better writers as we emulate these masters of the craft, and better people as we absorb the lessons they teach us.

The best books, of course, are the scriptures. My current favourite mantras, which I have learned the hard way to be some of the truest things ever written, are:

"Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:3)
"If ye are prepared ye shall not fear" (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30)

and, of course,
"Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

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