Akin to reflecting on sticks and stones in the last post, and the fifth grade neighborhood classmate whose taunts first made me feel the punch of words that hurt, I also started thinking about another classmate, and another school, where I first learned to be sensitive to the potency of words.
Heralded by our fourth grade teacher for studying “locution,” (a word I never had heard before—and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard from a teacher’s lips since), I still can picture our long dark-haired fourth grade classmate holding the lined paper on which were the words she “locuted” for us, words she had learned in her last lesson, from a poem entitled “Words of Beautiful Truth.”
Our teacher required that we copy and memorize the words—which I dutifully did. And those words made such an impression on me that I kept that handwritten paper copy for many years. (In fact, one day, I just might come upon it!)
Even now, decades since that day in fourth grade, thanks to locution lessons my parents never paid for, I have been able to recite on cue (admittedly not quite as dramatically as my classmate recited them), without benefit of the written copy, the first few lines–as best I can remember them.
Keep a watch on your words, my darling, for words are powerful things. They’re sweet like the bee’s sweet honey; like bees they have terrible stings.
Taking a long-shot chance before writing this post, I entered the first few words into an internet search—just to be sure I remembered them correctly.
Voila! …The words to the entire multi-stanza poem–pretty close to how I remembered learning them–showed up in an 1887 volume available on the internet entitled Little poems for little children, suitable for memorizing for recitation at school and at home, compiled by Valeria J. Campbell.
Since I noticed that the title of the poem in the 1887 volume (“Keep a Watch on Your Words”) is different from the one I remember (“Words of Beautiful Truth”), I’m wondering about the difference.
Could it be that the locution teacher retitled the poem? Or perhaps the locution teacher herself or himself learned it under a different title, passed down orally, perhaps over a number of generations.
In any case, I’m thankful to the locution teacher, my fourth grade teacher, and my fourth grade classmate for instilling in me at a young age the notion that among the truths about words are that their potency can hurt or heal, and that the better choice is to speak words of beautiful life-giving truth.
And the older I get, the more I yearn to fill my mind, head, and heart, as well as my lips, with words of beautiful truth, spoken by Him Who is Beautiful Truth.
And, I’m noticing, that lest we be inclined to dismiss the power that children have to be ministers of His Truth, it strikes me that two childhood peers first raised my consciousness about the power of words and the choices we make, the freedom we have, to use them for evil or for good.
And in the end, I’m glad for the two different titles of the poem. For, in the final analysis, joined together they deliver a powerful message for young and old alike:
“Keep a watch on your words,” and if/when you speak, may you speak only “Words of Beautiful Truth.”
What do you say?