Shakespeare. You can always go to him, to his famous and the not-so-well-known plays and stumble upon powerful and beautiful passages that give a sense of the language and convey a strong emotion and a lurking deep thought.
The deep thought may not be all that deep always but it remains that way in the dramatic context. Now, King John is not one of Shakepseare’s famous plays even among his history plays. But there are some powerful passages that make you sit up and make you re-read those passages again and yet again.
John has been poisoned by a monk, and he is brought out into the open. In those feverish last moments, Shakespeare makes him speak in memorable words.
King John: Ay, marry, my soul hath elbow room.
It would not out at windows nor at doors.
There is so hot a summer in my bosom,
That all my bowels crumble up to dust:
I am a scribbled form drawn with a pen
Upon a parchment, and against this fire
Do I shrink up.
Prince Henry: How fares your majesty?
King John: Poisoned — ill fare: dead, forsook, cast off,
And none of you will bid the winter come
To thrust his icy fingers in my maw:
Nor let my kingdom’s rivers take their course
Through my burned bosom; nor entreat the north
To make his bleak winds kiss my parched lips
And comfort me with cold….I do not ask you much,
I beg cold comfort; and you are so strait
And so ingrateful, you deny me that.
This is both powerful prose as well as moving poetry. And these words come in the middle of a play where there is hectic action and you would not even notice the words and the powerful images of the seasons and elements – winter and summer, hot and cold, the rivers, the winds, the north — they invoke.
This is a passage you can read and re-read, sit back and mull over the words. You can even roll them over on your tongue. Say them aloud, or read them quietly.
It makes you think of the most confusing and bewildering moment – the end of life, death at the door, but still at the door and you have time to utter your words and thoughts and feelings. It allows you to think, to meditate and to view the last scenes that unfold before you as you close your eyes.
This is also a passage that at the most elementary level brings home the simple structures of English sentences, the concatenation of words which like bricks laid on one over the other turn into a small edifice, a verbal edifice.
It would be immature to be trapped into believing that this is the best passage in the English language.
What this passage does show is that language is to be used to convey the truth as it is felt by the individuals involved at the moment with each other. It communicates which is what both literature and a utilitarian business note should do.
This opens us to the ways that language can be used to speak with each other, in a thoughtful manner and with sufficient feeling.
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Hyderabad-born, New Delhi-based journalist, working as editorial consultant with the DNA (Daily News and Analysis). He has written two books, “Mullah Omar and Robespierre Essays in the Politics of Ideas” (Rupa; 2005) and “Lokpal Facts & Arguments (HarAnand: 2012). He also authors a blog firstname.lastname@example.org.