“Write little – embrace the minute on the way to the universal.” – Adele Kenny
“I have made this [letter] longer only because I have not had the leisure of making it shorter.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales (17th century)
Writing little—but well—is no little task
It takes time to shave off extraneous words and throw-away phrases that meander onto the page.
It takes discernment to distill truth from the muck of everyday life.
It takes alertness to read the subtle language of truth in the mundane.
It takes gratitude to find use in the boring.
It takes humility to listen for small sounds amid the din.
It takes patience to wait for a message to emerge from the details you’ve gathered.
It takes practice to portray emotions with a drop of water instead of an ocean.
It takes heart to connect the little pieces of the world into a grand mosaic.
A Sample Little Poem
A ten-year-old I know wrote this piece, and I think it is delightful for several reasons, which I will explain below.
Please note: I have published the piece exactly as submitted, with no edits. The writer might choose to add punctuation after “meadow” and “I said” to create a smoother rhythm, but I thought for our purposes we’d explore the piece just as he wrote it. He might choose to forego the punctuation to maintain a free and easy feel that corresponds with the subject matter, the free and easy wind frolicking over a field.
Without further ado…
by B. Early
The wind brushed across my face in
the open meadow I said “What a
And the wind
What I love about this little piece
For one thing, its detail and personification work to convey a physical and emotional connection between the speaker and the world.
Its form, more expansive in the first two lines and succinct in the last three, pulls the broad setting of a windy field close and immediate to the speaker, who shares this intimate communication with the wind.
The “agreed” is placed perfectly on the final line, by itself. Upon first reading of this poem, I didn’t expect the wind to have a voice. I didn’t really expect the detail of the wind brushing across the speaker’s face to be central to the message. I assumed (incorrectly) that it was a common detail just included to portray a pretty day. But the last line transforms the wind from a passive, generic detail into an exuberant, playful character, joyful in its admiration of the natural world of which it is part and engaging the human speaker in the experience.
Most importantly, this piece has a particular quality that the best poems always have: a certain clever tone that converses with the world, that portrays a connected human-nature experience.
I am very fond of this poem, especially coming from a ten-year-old. It makes me humble and elicits simple joy from my heart.
And what grandiose writing can do better than that?
Write something little that is also universal.