The Power of Words – whatever the medium


If proof was ever needed that words matter, two news stories that appeared over the past week have provided ample evidence.

The first was Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize for literature.

The second was that some scholars are suggesting that more can be learnt from Winnie the Pooh about how to live a good live than from the ancient philosophers.

In today’s world of Snapchat, predictive text and ever declining attention spans, Dylan’s award “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” is a gentle reminder of how words even in unconventional or new medium can still cause us to reflect, to be soothed and inspired.

The Guardian tells us his ‘poetic lyrics musing over war, heartbreak, betrayal, death and moral faithlessness in songs that brought beauty to life’s greatest tragedies.’

Arguably, Dylan does not have the best voice in the world, nor is he a world-leading musician, but as former poet laureates, Andrew Motion said the prize was “a wonderful acknowledgement of Dylan’s genius. For 50 and some years he has bent, coaxed, teased and persuaded words into lyric and narrative shapes that are at once extraordinary and inevitable.”

Whether lyrics can ever be poetry, or indeed capable of changing opinion or people’s lives is always up for debate, but there is no doubt that words ‘packaged’ or expressed in the right way can have a profound impact.  Reflecting this time on rap artist Eminem, Seamus Heaney once said, “this guy ….. has created a sense of what is possible” and “sent a voltage around his generation”.

It maybe a big leap from Slim Shady to Greek philosophers, but the fact that we are still talking about what Aristotle said in xxxbc is to be celebrated; all the more so because his prose is beautifully resurrected in a twentieth century children’s book.

Just as Aristotle taught that everything has a purpose according to its nature, Pooh contemplates (over a long time, of course) that “the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey …..And the only reason I know of for making honey is so I can eat it.’

Academic, Catherine McCall believes part of the appeal of Winnie the Pooh is that the stories pose life’s big questions in a way children can understand simply.

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

Words that match their medium, carefully crafted and simply put have immense power.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” said Pooh Bear. While, it is with some irony that Dylan himself has not given us any reaction, written or otherwise  – no banter on stage, no acceptance speech or even tweet – to his award.

Perhaps, sometimes, the right words take longer and a little more thought to be properly expressed, whatever the medium. Tiddely pom.

Lizzy Lambley is a Director at Indigo