Words Breathe Life Into Abstraction

Finding the words to describe an abstract concept can send a writer into a spiral of self-doubt, maybe–and this is where it gets ugly–to the point of plucking a low-hanging cliche. But the seasoned writer slogs on, knowing that the right words will resurrect self-worth.

It may seem that when Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of that Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955, the civil rights movement took off and “spread like wildfire.” But in the words of Eldridge Cleaver in the following excerpt from Soul on Ice, here’s what happened:

Excerpt: And as that spirit of revolt swept across the continent from that wayward bus in Montgomery, Alabama, seeping like new life into the cracks and nooks of northern ghettos and sweeping in furious gales across the campuses of southern Negro colleges, erupting, finally, in the sit-ins and freedom rides–as this swirling maelstrom of social change convulsed the nation, shocking an unsuspecting American public, folk music, speaking of fundamental verities, climbed slowly out of the grave; and the hip lobe of the national ear, twitching involuntarily at first, began to listen.

My Take-Away: Sheer poetry, this passage invites the reader to imagine.  That “spirit of revolt” becomes something tangible as it “swept across the continent.” Who knows what the “cracks and nooks of northern ghettos” are? I’ve pondered those words but can’t figure out why they touch me in a way that saying  “reached northern ghettos” would have.

And such dynamic, sensory language: “sweeping in furious gales,” “erupting,” and “swirling maelstrom of social change convulsed the nation.”

Then there’s the surprising twist in which “folk music . . . climbed slowly out of the grave,” not to “capture the attention of an American public ready to listen,” but “and the hip lobe of the national ear, twitching involuntarily at first, began to listen.” Wow.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

–Robin Williams

4 thoughts on “Words Breathe Life Into Abstraction

  1. Gorgeous writing, for sure. The verbs are fabulous. I think I’ll share this with my English classes as we work on strong active verbs. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.