After my hiatus, I’m back with more ramblings on re: language and Mormonism (and the language of Mormonism). This week I spend some time exploring a moment in LDS Church history when the Word stepped in to save the day (as, frankly, He will). I mention some things that are specific to the course I’m teaching, but you should still get the gist of what I’m talking about.
James Goldbergâ€™s poem â€œIn the Beginningâ€* exults in orality. It begins, â€œWhen he was young, / they read the books / out loud.â€ But the poet doesnâ€™t revel simply by stating that his experience with language is grounded in the spoken word. He also alludes to the revel-atory power of speech with his title, which echoes John the Belovedâ€™s (later the Revelatorâ€™s) witness that â€œIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Godâ€ (John 1:1). What we read as â€œthe Wordâ€ is here translated from the Greek term logos, which according to Strong means â€œsomething said.â€ So Johnâ€™s â€œWordâ€ refers to something spoken, an idea mirrored in the additive, parallel structure of his opening statement, whose coordinate structure (â€œ. . . and . . . and . . .â€) parallels the rhythms of spoken language. When translated with the article, as it is in John, â€œthe Wordâ€ refers especially to â€œthe Divine Expression,â€ who is Christ, who wasâ€”who existedâ€”â€œin the beginning,â€ before taking on flesh, and who did so â€œwith Godâ€ and who â€œwas God.â€ Through this witness of Christ, when heard in conjunction with what we now have as John 1:2â€“5, it becomes clear that Christ is the Fatherâ€™s deepest, most creative, most transformative expression to humanity. He is the Fatherâ€™s promise of salvation spoken through the very structures of the cosmos.
James calls upon these associations from the beginning of his poem with its title and its subject matter, both of which suggest that the sounded word has a transformative effect on those with ears to hear (see Alma 31:5). And he deepens these associations with word-power through the additive, parallel structures of the poem, which mark its essential orality. These structures are evident especially in the repetition of â€œWhen he was youngâ€; in the poet’s simple language; in his use of the second person mode of address, which suggests a face-to-face conversation (â€œYou could still. . .â€); and in the additive phrasing of the second and third stanzas: â€œAnd . . . so . . . and . . . . Then.â€ Continue reading “Listening Closely to James Goldberg’s “In the Beginning””