I’ve been reading Stephen Hero by James Joyce. It’s an early version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce, not surprisingly, uses the main character Stephen to demonstrate his own love of language and words. He was a famous author after all.
He describes being a college student and growing in his appreciation for language when used to its full effect. He draws a clear line between proper (literary) and mundane (everything else, it seems) uses for words.
Words, he said, have a certain value in the literary tradition and a certain value in the market-place — a debased value. Words are simply receptacles for human thought: in the literary tradition they receive more valuable thoughts than they receive in the market-place.
I concur with Joyce that words have inherent value. I also agree that, when properly used, they carry a weight that transcends syllables and sounds. I believe that words are, indeed, “receptacles”, or containers, for thought.
Joyce describes Stephen’s daily walk from the tram station (Amiens Street Station in Dublin) to college (University College Dublin) each morning .
As he walked thus through the ways of the city he had his ears and eyes ever prompt to receive impressions. It was not only in Skeat that he found words for his treasure-house, he found them also at haphazard in the shops, on advertisements, in the mouths of the plodding public. He kept repeating them to himself till they lost all instantaneous meaning for him and became wonderful vocables.
What Joyce is saying is that he spent his walks deliberately seeking inspiration through words and phrases. He emphasizes that it was not just literary sources (Skeat studied word origins and published the Etymological English Dictionary in Joyce’s time), but everything he encountered. Shops, advertisements, passersby. When he found these choice morsels, he tasted and savored them until his appetite was temporarily satiated.
Why does this intrigue me? Take a look at John 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This verse introduces Jesus. It marks Him as timeless, separate from God the Father, but also God. It defines Jesus as the Word.
This places inestimable value on words properly used. It teaches us that Jesus is the incarnate communication of God’s love to us. As Jesus spoke, truth was shared. When we study the Bible, God’s word to us, we learn truth and love. There is, without question, inherent weight to this collection of words, inherent weight to Jesus’ teachings. This weight is called glory. [Kabod is the Hebrew word for glory; it means weight or heaviness.]
My hope for us is that we share Joyce’s passion for not just words, but the Word. Jesus. My desire is that we spend our days on the “morning walk from the tram to the college hall” seeking Jesus in all we see and experience. Like Joyce’s example, I pray that we use our everyday, walking around life to:
Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).
Peace and joy to you, friend.
1. Apparently, Joyce was quite the walker if I have the geography correct. The route from Ameins Street Station (now Connolly Train Station) to University College Dublin takes over an hour on foot.