It occurs to me that literature in itself is not just a reflection of life as we know it, but a shaper of thoughts and feelings. Literature inspires people to be greater, to try harder. Literature can shape behaviour and thought.
The 19th Century Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, said in his essay ‘A Defence of Poetry” in 1820, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” He claimed that poets and their words could shape a nation’s and even the world’s thoughts and feelings oabout issues and laws. Perhaps this is why Churchill, in WWI supported the poem of Rupert Brooke entitled ‘The Soldier’.
IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, 5
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less 10
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
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This poem is a call for young men to fight for England in WWI. The poem was shared from the pulpits of churches and published in newspapers of the time, and was the inspiration behind so many young men going to war, and even losing their lives for patriotism.
We then as writers, whether that be a poet, novelist, or journalist can influence peoples lived for good, or in fact for evil.
The Stephen King book ‘Rage’ which he wrote under the nom de plume of Richard Bachman was said to be responsible for a school hostage situation, and the shooting of a prayer group in a high school. In the book, a high school student shoots his teacher and takes his classmates hostage. When he heard of these killings, Stephen King asked that the book not be reprinted.
‘Catcher in the Rye’ is said to be the inspiration of the killing of John Lennon, amongst others. The shooter, Mark David Chapman, considered his crime as Chapter 27, the next chapter of the Salinger classic.
Words in the Salman Rushdie book, ‘Satanic Verses’, so enraged those of the Islamic faith that a Fatwa was ordered, that is, that the leaders of the religion ordered his murder by any Muslim that saw him. It was a worldwide fatwa so Rushdie was not safe anywhere.
Words from all different authors have influenced life for good. The Bible encourages people to change their lives for good every day. Arguably many atrocities have also been caused by the misinterpretation of the words within.
Writers need to be cautious with words. We need to be aware of the influence it can have over people, and indeed nations. Let’s try to keep the writing real, but also use words to encourage and influence for the common good rather than harm.