“Half of you here don’t get
it,” a thundering voice said
from the stage, to a crowd
that very much wanted him
and themselves to believe that
they in fact did get it.  And yet
that voice would not be
mollified by mere words alone.

How wrong, and yet how right
that voice was.  For indeed many
in that audience did not in fact
get it at all, as the years would
make plain, but the amount of
people who did not get it in those
seats was far more than half.  And
yet that thundering voice uttered
no truer prophecy in all his days.


Among the people who read the short poem above, there will likely be two types of readers.  There will be readers who will be able to readily understand the poem and know exactly what I am talking about despite the formal anonymity of the poem [1], and there will be other readers who will not know what I am talking about and think that I am imagining the scene.  Who is at an advantage in such a case?  To be sure, those who know that I am referring to someone who was a flesh and blood human who did thunder to large audiences that they in fact did not get what he was saying will have an advantage in that they will understand the nonfictional nature of this poem, and will know the precise circumstances of those fateful and true utterances and the events that would take place in the intervening years that would show beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was understating the amount of people listening to him that did not get it.  Yet I wonder how much in truth this is an advantage to reading a poem like this one.

After all, if one “gets” that there is a layer of meaning in a given poem or piece of writing, and this is certainly true in my own writings, it is often easy to assume that one has gotten all there is about it.  Once we find some meaning in a text, we often stop and think that we have understood the text in its entirety.  And yet this is not so.  A reader who does not know and is not familiar with the context of a writing like this one may see something else in what is written, and what they see will often be a valid layer of meaning as well.  It will not do to have people arguing over what meaning of my texts is right when the people arguing are both right in part but not in whole.  After all, those who know that I am taking a real life situation that, according to my understanding of the matter, was a somewhat frequent occurrence during the last few years of the life of the man with the thundering voice, days when I was an infant and toddler and small child and was thus not an eyewitness or earwitness except to the later testimony of those who were old enough to remember it at the time, will know the veracity of what I speak of.  And those who are ignorant of that layer of meaning will guess that there is some larger and more general truth that is being conveyed that does not depend on a knowledge of the context of the poem itself.  And they will also be right.

After all, this poem was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine who attended church in Southern California with me when I was a college student at USC.  She has since married and moved to the Southeast and has a family, but we frequently chat as we both have an interest in personality theory and share the common amusing pastime of putting people in boxes and seeking to understand them by type.  As we were chatting about what makes a leader, she commented that many leaders may have a large following, at least by all appearances, but that many people will not be truly loyal to them and may just be there for the sake of being there as part of a social experience without any true commitment to the leader’s ideals and message.  She brought up the example of the gentleman the poem is about, and I thought that it was a very apropos case to illustrate her point.  Indeed, the vividness of that particular example is responsible, I think, for the tone of the entire poem, with its layers of irony and understatement as well as the powerful image of a thundering voice on a stage speaking to an audience that is self-deceived and would be deceived before too long in other ways as well.  Sometimes the vividness of such a flesh and blood example, even if pictured by a disembodied loud voice, may overwhelm in some readers the more general applicability of what my friend and I were talking about.  And yet that is the risk one takes when writing something, even formally anonymous poems.  There will be all too many people who will get something and think mistakenly that they get everything there is to get.  Simply because one catches a fish in Lake Loma does not mean one has caught all the fish there is to catch there.  Far from it.

[1] See, for example:








About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Understatement

  1. Pingback: O Tinnitus (After Gerard Manley Hopkins) | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Labels | Edge Induced Cohesion

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