Home » The Spirit of Quotation
There is a story told of an elderly lady who, never having read Shakespeare or attended one of his plays, was taken to a performance of Hamlet. She was heard to remark afterward that she had greatly enjoyed the play, thought it was a good story and well written, but “Why did he need to use so many quotations?”
What she did not know, of course, was that so many phrases that first leapt spontaneously from Shakespeare’s pen had entered the language and been spoken over and over through centuries of delighted repetition. There is, however, a shadowed truth to her comment. For though the Bard of Avon had a marvelous talent for joining word to word in the hot crucible of his brain, the passions he expressed were universal in human consciousness and the ideas that gave them substance and continuity did not entirely originate with him.
It is good to say things new, and it is good to say them well. But the source of the saying lies in the spirit of understanding forever available to everyone. Available, but in fact perceived and employed consciously by only a few. The rest of us make use of words and turns of phrase already polished and provided. We speak to one another perhaps of our burning thoughts and feelings but for the most part unwittingly employ the language we have heard spoken.
Gratefully so. For communication becomes possible as we utter familiar words and comprehend the familiar words of others. But a deeper communion requires an opening of the heart to the spirit of quotation, to the spirit behind quotation. When a thought is uttered with passion, having been fused in spirit’s kiln, it may awaken us to a different kind of hearing. One may say, “How true that is!”, acknowledging a wisdom that is one’s own, a recognition that one’s life is founded on a base more solid and secure than any rock. One has touched awareness in that moment of one’s own reality, in context of the living universe. And until the next such moment, the form of words that opened one’s heart may serve as a quotable reminder.
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