The sacred trust of the written word

Guyana Chronicle
July 6, 1999

WITH the marvels of cyberspace and the information highway threatening to rob the next generation of the pleasure, comfort and exaltation of the written word, unrepentant book-lovers are more than ever determined to resist the seduction of the new technologies and to retreat more and more into the ancient rite of reading. Young moderns seclude themselves into the cocoons of their computer world and desert the invigorating exchanges that only take place between humans in the marketplaces. Those of us who enjoy exploring the mysteries of human behaviour will continue to revel in books, magazines and newspapers and all documents that bear the symbols of the written word.

Apart from the gratification of the basic needs of humans, what other activity offers such rich rewards of the senses than a beautifully written passage conveying a special mood, or a particular moment in the lives of people? Those fortunate persons who in their young childhood were lead, or found their own way through the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville and Mark Twain, will forever treasure those stories since they laid the foundation stones for building an appreciation of the enriching beauty of the written word.

Those who have studied the simple but telling grace of the Gospels, the poetry of the Psalms, and the erudition of the Pauline letters, just know that the King James version of the Holy Bible is the best book ever written. The eloquent reply Ruth makes to her mother-in-law has to be one of the most stunning responses in the history of man. Ruth said: "Whither thou goest, I will go. Whither thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people and thy God, my God." And Job's wife poses one of the most difficult questions ever asked, when she utters the words, "Dost thou still retain thine integrity?" Saint Paul's learned treatise on love, which begins with the famous lines, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal," has to be one of the high-points of the New Testament.

After the holy writ, the works of Shakespeare and the old English poets offer some of the best excursions into the soul of man by way of rhyme and metre. The writings of English novelists such as Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, George Elliot, and the Bronte sisters though published over a 100 years ago are still rich minefields for re-interpretation by modern dramatists and film-makers. And judging from the efflorescence of writing in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean, the New World experience is being constantly re-worked and re-interpreted. The pioneering legacy of such early writers as H. De Lisser, C.L.R. James, Roger Mais, Edgar Mittleholzer, Samuel Selvon, Naipaul, John Hearne and George Lamming, is being augmented by the young writers some of whom embrace a more panoramic view of the universe.

In this age of television and the dazzling images of virtual reality, the keepers of the gates of culture and education will fail dismally if they do not instill in our children and youths, a love and appreciation for the written word. They must impress upon the young, the importance of language skills so that as they mature, they will be able to express themselves in lucid and elegant prose, a facility which will benefit them tremendously in their engagement with other humans in the world of work.

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples