It has happened to me twice now, so there is no denying its power. We travel today to the Moscow Pushkin Museum on the anniversary of A. S. Pushkin’s birthday Jun 6, 1799 for a concert of poetry and music performed by children of the age of my own. The show begins with a recitation of the great author’s poetry. Just like several years ago when I came for the same event for the first time, I understood not a word of it. But just like then, I still could not help but weep for the beauty of it.
It stuns me to think on it. For I was raised on the strict pedagogical rule that the principle use of words was in the understanding. To quote St. Paul, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” But what exactly did the apostle mean by intelligibility? [translating the Greek phrase λόγους τῷ νοΐ μου “words with my mind”] The Greek word νοΐ from νοῦς implies more than the English word “intellect” or “intelligible”. It is on the level of the soul which is moved by more than mere cleverness or smartness. Though Pushkin’s poems did not register on my cerebral cortex, still their cadence and rhythm, their crescendo and decrescendo, and most of all the love felt for the poet by the children reciting his words left me almost without words.
For this experience of weeping without rational understanding reveals the true beauty and gift of the spoken word, in this case the highly cultured Russian of Pushkin’s 19th century literary revival. Language is not something we merely obtain/possess and then use/manipulate for our own purposes. Rather,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1
It is through the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, that the gift of any tongue has the power to move human hearts. May we all learn to conform our human tongues to this Word and learn the power of beauty which can save the world and our own souls.