Burden (NPE 2)

I was waffling about whether to continue with the A section or move on alphabetically. I am inclined towards variety - thus, on to B.

A rather obscure term, but one whose etymology seems pleasingly convoluted, a burden is as heavy as it sounds. According to the NPE, it can denote one of several meanings:

(a) in the Eng. Bible...a raising of the voice utterance, oracle;

(b) the bass or undersong, accompaniment[...];

(c) the chief theme, the leading sentiment or matter of a song or poem[...];

(d) the refrain or chorus of a song[...]
New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 151
This is one of those terms one may ascertain rather intuitively, if one simply knows the common meaning of the word "burden" - e.g., a heavy load, one bears the burden; it is something low that must be brought up. It is also the anchor. It's easiest to understand this in musical terms. That is, the flute is a lovely and impressive instrument, but the band would sound thin if comprised of nothing but high woodwinds (this was my high school band, in fact). There is always need of a good sousaphone, and while it's not the most glamourous job to play the oompapas, it is quite often the bassline which reminds us which key we're in.

It's easy to transpose the concept to poetry. We're beasts of burden, writers. I still believe, as I believed when all I'd read was Shakespeare, that the purpose of all good writing is to communicate with grace and sometimes with dignity, but often with great humiliation and humility, an essential truth about "the human condition." In the glare of flashy language, I frequently forget the simple reason I found myself compelled to write in the first place. But it's not just the desire to be flashy and quirky which impedes my assenting that I write to communicate - just communicate. I don't want to play martyr. I don't want to be a romantic, starving in the attic with a manual typewriter.

When I was a teenager, I remember my mother badgering me to go pre-law and give up my aspiration to become a professional musician. Exasperated, she shouted, "You're not Mozart, you know!" I saw this as a lack of encouragement, and not what it really was - practicality to a fault. I dove immediately for my notebook in a fury. She dismissed me, "Write it all down, why don't you?" Yes, I thought, so I will. I had become accustomed to writing in lieu of actively pursuing what I assured myself would be a useless confrontation.

I realize that writing is something of a method of giving up. Not of bearing a burden. I am a burden to be borne. But often, I can only hope, a worthy burden, good company.


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