Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Poetic Art

When commenting on a phrase in the 683rd line of the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid, the famous (but perhaps not well known to everyone) Virgilian commentator Servius once wrote “the poetic art is not to say all things.” While I can’t speak for everyone, it seems to me that this is pretty good advice for living in general. The phrase might be stated, “the art of living is not to say all things.”

How, when we can communicate so easily today by telephone, email, texting, Instagram, Snapchat, IChat, or Twitter or the like, can I possibly say that the art of living is not to say everything? I think my thinking is borne out of a very old-fashioned idea that gestures can speak louder than words. I don’t mean by this hand gestures, though hand gestures, as the Italians have proven, are really a marvelous way of enhancing or even replacing words with non-verbal cues. For example, the gesture offered below means “I am hungry.”ho-fame

This one means, you’re the source of my problem—and may you be warded off:


And this one means, I find what he is saying (or what someone is proposing) not to my taste (indigestible):


And here are a few more, courtesy of

handgesturesBut delightful as all of these hand signals are, they are, of course, not what I mean exactly by “gestures.” Rather, what I am getting at is that the art of living well must allow for, even require, some purposeful lack of clarity, some “coded” behavior, certain suggestive non-verbal cues that make the words that you do actually say have greater meaning. And such gesture s could be something as simple as opening a door for someone, refilling a wine glass before someone can ask, offering an appropriate hug. Such a gesture could even be as subtle as a (literal) pat on the back, a bonding wink, a warm and accepting smile.

And that is all I want to say today, because truly the poetic art is not to say everything or (in the case of this blog) even to say too much.




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