Logos

Notebook
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

April 1804

In looking at objects of Nature, while I am thinking, as at yonder moon dim- glimmering thro’ the dewy window-pane, I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking, a symbolic language for something within me that already and forever exists, than observing anything new. Even when the latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscure feeling as if that new phænomenon were the dim awakening of a forgotten or hidden Truth of my inner Nature! It is still interesting as a Word, a Symbol! It is Logos, the Creator! [and the Evolver!]


The Apostle John opens his gospel with a description of Jesus as “the Word.”  This was especially meaningful to his original readers who understood the complexity of the “logos” as an expression of the inexplicable. The Chinese language contains a similar term, “tao“, which means both “thinking” and “speaking.”  As creatures made in His image, God has set eternity in our hearts yet, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, we “cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to the end” (Ecc 3:11).  Fortunately, God graced us with the ability to gain understanding.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

When we use language, we pass through the physicality of the words so swiftly we hardly realize they are there. For the words we use are, of course, not simply dead physical objects, opaque and referring to nothing but themselves. The words we use are living symbols, taking us the instant they are uttered through and beyond themselves, connecting us with an intricate network of reference: reference to other words and reference to the realities in nature and in our- selves of which the words are symbols.

For most of us this process of meeting the word only to be ushered through it to that meaning beyond itself to which it points is so familiar and unconscious we scarcely notice it is happening. We cease to be conscious of the words, only of the images they summon up. But poets are concerned not only with the meanings of words, but with savoring and celebrating the words themselves, the very sounds. And so it is that in reading great poetry, our vision is doubled: we become aware simultaneously both of the word as a thing in itself, a chosen sound, a kind of music in the air, and also of that other reality, that mystery of truth of which the word is the gatekeeper. In the language of poetry we meet something that is both itself and a mediator of that which is beyond itself.

How are words gatekeepers to mystery?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief