The pen is mightier than the sword.
Thought it’d be a good idea to start my post off with both a thought-provoking title and a (mostly) overused quote, just so that you’re efficiently baffled. Perhaps you’re starting to form ideas in your mind already as to what I’m going to write about.
I was talking to my friend last night, and I can’t remember how exactly we got there, but we (REALLY) briefly touched upon the power of words. The conversation went a little bit like this:
Me: It’s so much fun. Writing these whole new worlds.
Him: Yeah I know. Funny how words can completely shape an environment/character.
Me: Yeah. Words are amazing. They can do so much man.
(And then, here comes the amazing bit…)
Me: That’s my next blog post. Words and their power.
So here I am. And here we are.
Let’s return to the quote from the beginning. I actually love this quote so much. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It’s so relevant and so true. Allow me to enlighten you as to some of the many ways this quote is relevant. But first, some context.
This quote is attributed to the novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, in his historical play ‘Cardinal Richelieu’.
Francois: But now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord.
Richelieu: The pen is mightier than the sword… take away the sword; States can be saved without it!
Now, since Richelieu is a priest, there is obviously the stigma that he is not allowed to take up arms against people who are trying to kill him. However, he acknowledges that even though he has no weapons, the power of words is more powerful than any weapon he could use. He even goes so far as to say that without armaments, entire states can be saved.
I haven’t read the play (the above was the result of some quick googling – thanks BBC) but context is always helpful. However, the BBC article also informed me that there were even earlier references to this path of thought.
A similar phrase appears in 1582, “The dashe of a Pen, is more greeuous then the counterbuse of a Launce.” (The dash of a pen is more grievous than the counter use of a lance.) Going back further, the Greek poet Euripides, is quoted as writing: “The tongue is mightier than the blade.” “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than 1,000 bayonets,” is another quote comparing a weapon to words, and is allegedly attributed to Napoleon.
So, what we learn here is that many people, not just writers and artists, but world leaders, and leading thinkers alike all seem to have the same train of thought. Let’s keep going.
According to Google definition, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ is an old proverb which means ‘writing is more effective than military power or violence.’ According to the Cambridge Dictionaries website, it means ‘thinking and writing have more influence on people and events than the use of force or violence.’
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
“But this cannot be!” You say. “How can something which simply emits ink onto a page be more powerful than that which can take lives?” (You’re probably NOT saying this – or at least, I hope you’re not – but just pretend you are for the purposes of this blog post).
Let’s look at this from a more literal standpoint.
The thing about a sword is that it has one purpose: to destroy. I very much doubt any soldier would have picked up a sword and thought “Hey, this would be GREAT to cut my nice block of cheddar with,” or “Perhaps this would look nice if I melted it down and made it into a necklace.” Swords are for killing, really. They don’t have much other purpose. The people who wield swords have one intention: to kill. Yes, swords can take away lives, and yes, they can rip lives apart because of the lives they have taken away.
The thing about a pen, however, is that it also has a purpose, but one which both reflects and counteracts the purpose of a sword: to destroy AND create. With a pen (or a metaphorical pen; I think typing counts too) authors have single-handedly crafted worlds, characters, Kingdoms, realms, and even re-created parts of history, all with its’ carefully wielded use. Yes, pens might not be able to physically kill people – although, I suppose it depends which pen you use – but, to an extent, they CAN physically kill people. Pens can also destroy. People used pens (or quills, rather) to sign death warrants. People write malice and hate-fuelled letters, which can tear someone’s life apart. Newspaper articles filled with slander can ruin someones career… or alternatively build them up. There is very little limit to the power of the pen.
A sword, on the other hand, would not be used for construction. What good can you do with a sword? Swords aren’t made to create. Pens are, however. And words do exactly that.
I also thought that the blog title was rather apt, because a sword, or any other weapon really, is a weapon of mass destruction. But a pen, being as it is, can be used as a weapon of mass construction. I think it’s amazing how powerful a simple word can be.
Words literally create a whole other realm of thought. Reading a book is not just an amazing feat for the reader (who, in a sense, is doing a bit of work on their part too, as no two readers view a book in the exact same way) but also for the person who wrote it. In order for you to have imagined the book, or the character, or the setting, in the way they would have wanted you to, surely that required a level of skilful use of words.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone is necessarily able to use words in terms of literature. But everyone uses their own powerful words in different ways. Some people (like myself) prefer to write their power. Some prefer to speak it. Some prefer to sing it. Some prefer to dream it.
But everything we do with words has some form of power, whether we recognise it or not.
Words were what the slaves used in their songs to empower themselves and each other in the darkest moments of their lives. Today, we have the lyrics of Negro Spirituals to remind us of that. Words were what the Popes of Medieval Christendom used to wage war on countries. Today, we see the effects of the Crusades, all because some men had willed it with their words. Words were what Hitler used to rally the support of millions of German citizens, and instil a sense of nationalism and patriotism within them all. Today, we look back at the horrific results from the rule of a skilled orator and yet an evil, racist, homophobic, misogynist dictator.
Words are amazing. They are beyond comprehension. How is it that we can both look at the same tree, but you describe it in a different way to me? Because the physical appearance of that tree manifests itself in words in our mind in different ways.
Pens are the metaphorical vessels of words. Since we live in the age of technology, I suppose not very many people use pens anymore; we prefer to type. (Speaking of type, I would LOVE a typewriter, actually). But pens, quills and ink, fountain pens, were what many famous poets, writers and singers used to pen their eternal works. The pen was what immortalised Shakespeare, Austen, Chaucer, Poe, Hemingway, Dickens, Tolkien, Orwell, Steinbeck, Woolf, Tolstoy and hundreds of other creatives like them.
So. That’s it. I think I’ve effectively used words to try and explain how words can be used effectively. (Also, the English language is so weird and complicated). To end, here’s a poem which makes me grateful that I grew up speaking English and didn’t have to learn it as a second language. And once again reiterating the power of words, to not only create and destroy… but also to confuse.
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.
Well don’t! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth as in mother
Nor both as in bother, nor broth as in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear, for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose–
Just look them up–and goose and choose
And cork and work and card and ward
And font and front and word and sword
And do and go, then thwart and cart,
Come, come! I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful Language? Why man alive!
I learned to talk it when I was five.
And yet to write it, the more I tried,
I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five.
Good afternoon everyone, and love you all.
The Faerie Squad Mother x