The Language of Miracle

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Palmer Horst, a classical educator and poet.

Yeats once said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”  in his well-known poem “The Second Coming.”

Language, the foundation of all human interaction, is becoming increasingly fragmented, leading to “mere anarchy.”  The primary response to this prophecy is “change”.  Everything new and different must be tried and eventually we will find the solution.  Instead of “new and different” change, we should rather be returning to our homes, trying to redeem what stability is left.  Only by creating, maintaining, and guarding the sense of home, can language be miraculously saved from fragmentation.

Yeats, a modernist looking forward into the vast unknown of postmodernism, had good reason to fear.  The core structures of society—the family, the church, and the state—were being torn down piece by piece, and the firmament of even those structures—language—was being destroyed.  Existing now almost a century later, it is tempting for us to believe his prophecy is blossoming to fruition, abandon any hope of recovery, and simply sink into a wake of mourning.  A miracle is needed.

As sinful humans, and most especially as Americans, we want the easy way out.  We want to believe this miracle must be deus ex machina—an extraordinary salvation.  Miracle is not, however, as “extraordinary” as we may believe.  In fact, most events which we would label as extraordinary are merely entropic natural events.  Order inherent in the ordinary—in “home” is unnatural, but miraculous.

Home—whether it be your house now, the town you grew up in, or simply a patch of woods to which you and a loved one always escape for consolation—is where we are the most at ease.  When we are at home, and with the person or people with which we share it, miscommunication is rare.  The way we pattern our speech at home is the most coherent language ever becomes.

All language is pattern. Letters are patterned lines, words are patterned letters, sentences are pattered words.  The more extraordinary or uncommon the pattern, the more chaotic language becomes, and the less ability it has to communicate true meaning to others in dialogue or even to ourselves in monologue.  We have all experienced that one cocktail party we were invited to by a friend, where we know no one else, and all our jokes, anecdotes, and witty remarks are received as quite unremarkable.  In an uncommon or extraordinary environment such as this, the meaning of our language patterning is not shared.

“Home” is so crucial to our humanity.  A sense of place—a pattern of everyday is the only miracle which can save language from the fragmentation postmodernism has “loosed on upon the world.”  Things may fall apart, but only if we let them.  The contemporary need to “be on our own” or “pave our own way” leads merely to chaos.  Only when each day is patterned as the one before, can the pattern of line, letter, and word begin to reveal true meaning.

(Read more of Palmer’s articles at his blog, A Crowned Knot of Fire.)