‘Every Idle Word’: What if we had to own up to what we say?

For different reasons we have all, on both sides of the Atlantic, been reflecting on the way our words can travel and unravel beyond us, on the need to care for the tenor of what we say. Back in 2011 I had already become uneasy about the coarsening of our discourse and particularly about hate speech, and I wrote this poem reflecting on Jesus’ warning to us about the consequences of the words we use, about the fact that we will be held accountable for them. I published that poem in 2013 in my book The Singing Bowl, but now, seven years later, it seems more urgent than ever.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

What If…

But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Mathew 12:36-37

What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume gathers weigh,
Drums and dins us with dismay
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?

What if not a word is lost,
What if every word we cast
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste
Echoes to us from the past
Fares and finds us first and last
Haunts and hunts us down?

What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration
Every oath and imprecation,
Insidious insinuation,
Every blogger’s aberration,
Every facebook fabrication
Every twittered titivation,
Unexamined asservation
Idiotic iteration,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?

What if each polite evasion
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Querulous prevarication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation
False or flattering peruasion,
Blackmail and manipulation
Simulated desparation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?

Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
O Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do not bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.

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Filed under imagination

18 responses to “‘Every Idle Word’: What if we had to own up to what we say?

  1. This is amazing! I love how you thought of every aspect where we use our words including what we cut & paste

  2. Eileen Pheiffer

    What a gift you have! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Carol Congalton

    Sobering indeed!

  4. mar6700

    (rosalesmaryr83@gmail.com) in knowing you much more. i will

  5. Thank you so much. That scripture passage has always been a warning to me. Though I have not always heeded it. Your poem spoke wonderful truth in a beautiful way. I copied and posted on my Facebook page with your name and book reference, of course. Peace, LaMon

  6. Tom

    It’s Matthew (two t’s). Couldn’t resist! ;o)

  7. Raw, rhythmic and resounding words which help us to consider how our own are shed abroad. Thank you, Malcolm, for saying it so well with your inspiring verse!

  8. lynndmorrissey

    What a timely word for “such a time as this”! It’s so interesting that you should post this. The Singing Bowl is one of my favorite volumes of yours (having received its fair share of highlights, underlines, and notations by me). I had literally read it through again several weeks ago, and considered asking your permission to post it on my FB page. And, now, here it is, complete w/ a FB share button! Living in the wake of the American Presidential election, I’ve seen many irate FB posts, much to my chagrin. We forget, as Christians, I think, that we *will* be held accountable for our words, idle or incendiary, on the day of judgment. This realization is sobering and should give us pause. You said this:
    “Better that some words be lost,
    Better that they should not last . . .”
    I’m thinking, too, better some not be uttered at all. Thank you so much for sharing, and referencing that wonderful volume of yours. I hope readers will get it. Being a singing bowl is a lot better than being a spewing one.

  9. Cate Nunan

    Reading this gave me a reason to pause and think carefully about my own words. I loved leaning what clamant meant and think it is highly appropriate to the way speech and thoughts are wielded nowadays. My favourite line is the one about the Word being the way in which our world is blessed. Thank you Malcolm, I have never been good with poetry or understanding it but you have helped me a lot.

  10. So powerful. I shared it on our church FB page

  11. Joe Christopher

    A marvelous series of rhymes!

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