Heinrich Böll, on words

Two inspiring quotes from Heinrich Böll (courtesy of Paris Review) that I’ve been hoarding. I’m bringing them out today, inspired by Terri Windling’s blog Myth & Moor:

[B]ehind every word a whole world is hidden that must be imagined. Actually, every word has a great burden of memories, not only just of one person but of all mankind. Take a word such as bread, or war; take a word such as chair, or bed or Heaven. Behind every word is a whole world. I’m afraid that most people use words as something to throw away without sensing the burden that lies in a word. Of course, that is what is significant about poetry, or the lyric, in which this can be brought about more intensively than in prose, although prose has the same function.

Writing and reading poetry was important for my apprenticeship in writing, but also, before that, in thinking about the world. That “history” that’s hidden there in the language, I also found in fairy tales, folk stories of incredible power and brevity.

Language is more solid than music and painting. Yet it is “inexact.” But the fact that a word has a multiplicity of meaning, not only within a language but also outside of it, makes it important to try to get to the root of words and language. That is the constant striving of literature. The absolute meaning exists somewhere; we just haven’t found it yet.

I think that’s well said. I wish you joy in the search.


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