William Edelen: A Word Or Two

The Contrary Minister

My title borrowed from CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER’S one man stage show at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. There are no adjectives that are adequate to describe his performance, his celebration of books and the power and beauty of the written word. He revealed his soul to us in the audience, his passion for literature. For someone like me, who shares that same passion, the hour and a half was truly a feast.

Behind him on the stage was a circular spiral of books from the floor to ceiling, a lectern and a chair. At age 84 a slight favoring of the stability of his legs was evident, but was in no way a handicap to his breathtaking performance, his magical readings of the great literature he has grown up with, and cherished, over his lifetime. A sustained STANDING OVATION was well deserved.

My memory went into a rewind to the year 1957 when I was a student in theological school, the University of Chicago. The Pulitzer Prize play “J.B.”, written by Archibald Macleish, was on stage downtown. It was a play putting a modern business man, “J.B.” playing out the role of the biblical JOB. Christopher Plummer had the lead as J.B… Raymond Massey played God, and Basil Rathbone was the Devil. It will be a part of my memory forever. Plummer was simply brilliant. Plummer made a fond, fond reference to that play and “Archie” as he called Macleish.

As a writer, the play was a banquet for me. The POWER and BEAUTY of language, words, have been almost a life time passion for me. And as Mark Twain so aptly put it… “the difference between the wrong word and the right word is like the difference between the lightening bug and lightening”.

In listening to Plummer, I thought of a Library inscription in Trajan’s forum in Rome that read: “Dispensary To The Soul”.

Barbara Tuchman wrote: “Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill”.

A question I have asked, along with Plummer, is “will the information revolution ever displace the almost genetic and aesthetic attachment we feel about books?”

During most of my lifetime when I have entered a new home for the first time, I have always looked for TWO things to give me a clue as to the substance of the owners. I have looked for book shelves, with books, and green plants. If none, it has been to me a clear profile of a mentally sterile home, as well as one divorced from a touch of nature and our natural world. You think that is too harsh a knee-jerk judgment?? I have seldom been wrong.

When I think of the POWER of Words, how Words have moved history, movements, people, organizations, I am reminded of the truth that “the pen is a more mighty weapon than the sword.”

The words of Martin Luther King moved a nation. The words of Thomas Jefferson, inscribed in the national monument to him, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” The POWER of the words and language moved a nation.


George Washington read THOMAS PAINE to his troops every day to keep them inspired and motivated.

The POWER and BEAUTY of WORDS infuse powerful new energy into our individual lives, communities, and civilization. They produce a change in values and focus, direction and destination.

Both primordial LIGHT and primordial DARKNESS are a part of being human. Through Words we can make a choice as to what we will choose and how we will form our values.

The Power and Beauty of words and language that Christopher Plummer revealed to me in “A WORD OR TWO” will keep a bright LIGHT on my true path for my years ahead.