Let’s talk music for a second. I’m not a very musical guy, I don’t know what most of the Italian means, but – as they say – I know what I like.

You know Ode to Joy, right? I don’t mean the big German choral piece at the end of Beethoven’s Ninth, I mean just the tune itself, plain and simple, like on a piano.

I don’t know how it is for you, but to me, this tune feels…elemental. It feels basic, like wind or water, like relativity waiting for Einstein to discover it. Rationally, I know Ludwig sat down and wrote the thing at some point in the early nineteenth century. But instinctively, I can’t imagine a world without this music. You don’t write music like that; it just is.

(The fact that he did sit down and write it is, of course, a testament to his staggering genius.)

I was thinking about this the other day, and I couldn’t come up with any piece of writing that feels the same way. Probably that’s because music, as a medium, feels more “basic” than writing; words are inherently human constructs. But there are a few quotes that come close. The most obvious, for me, come from the Bible:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

Why these quotes? Well, they all seem very simple and deeply profound, which I suppose is what it takes. (The fact that it’s the Bible, and I’ve read it and heard it quoted all my life, is probably a factor too.)

I know lots of other quotes that are equally profound, but it’s hard to find them worded in such simple language. In fact, I just looked through my entire quotes file (an ever-growing text file where I write down any good quote I find, as I read it; it’s quite long by now) and there was really only one non-Biblical quote I could find that seemed to fit the bill:

“Be as you wish to seem.”

(This is attributed to Socrates, anyway, but I never have found a source for it. I’m wary of source-less Internet quotes.)

Anyone else know any other bits of writing (or music) like this, or even just some good quote you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments!


4 responses to “Elementals

  1. For me, I think that CS Lewis most fits the category of ‘elemental.’ There are far too many quotes for me to pick even one to share in this context.

    In the spirit of yesterday’s post, though, I like this one a great deal: “Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”

    Followed you over here from CWS, by the way. Am really enjoying this just as much!

    • Welcome! Always glad to see another CWS reader. 🙂
      Your comment about using “infinitely” to mean “very” is a great point. When people do that long enough, the word actually changes meaning. “Awesome,” which used to mean “awe-inspiring,” is now largely a synonym for “cool” (and I’m as much to blame as anyone else). “Fantastic” means “really good” more often then “evoking fantasy.” In those cases it’s not too bad because there are other ways to get across the intended meaning; no mercy, however, for those who use “literally” as an intensifier!! Haha.

  2. I also like how some symbols have that same feeling. Whether it is when someone holds their throat and everyone knows they are choking or just green is for go and red is for stop. I can’t imagine any other meanings.

    • Yeah, and isn’t it funny how this stuff that feels so basic and immutable is based mostly on culture? So many people (myself included) have feelings of pride hard-wired to the sight of their own national flag, which don’t activate when they see the flag of any other country.

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