The Language of Letters

Standard

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
(Letter 16, 1657)”
Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters

Letters

These past weeks as I considered language as a conduit for communication, I came across some old letters, cards and notes that I have kept over the years. I found the first birthday card that I received that mentioned age.  As I looked at all of the signatories I recalled my surprise that others had identified my transition before me.   How had thirty come so soon?

Letters are more than a record of a long distance conversation. As John Donne once wrote, “More than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Whether they are scribbles of a pen or the faded print of a manual typewriter, letters are the remnants of relationships between lovers, parents and children, sisters, brothers, friends, or colleagues.  They bear witness to a moment of historical significance between the sender and receiver.  Letters are the stories of people’s lives, of their hopes and dreams, of their achievements and failures.  Most of all, they are the narratives of humanity.  Letters season our history and biographies with vibrant detail, allowing us to experience what will never be again.  Voices long silent come alive as if the writers themselves were sitting across the table or in the opposite armchair.

In the coming days, I want to explore the language of letters within the context of words and actions.

“Because thou writest me often, I thank thee … Never do I receive a letter from thee, but immediately we are together.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

28 thoughts on “The Language of Letters

  1. What bothers me – does anyone keep e-mails?
    Will we ever have again these mementoes, the handwritten notes, the spidery old writing, the blotches where tears fell, or the rings of a tea-cup…
    Will anyone ever know again the anguish of waiting for the post, or the joy of seeing the postman.push an envelope in the box.???
    . I think I can feel a blog coming on !!!!

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. I have letters that my grandmother saved. On the envelopes there were stamps from all over the world – why is it that we think that we are the only generation to go global. Travel now is by a suitcase on rollers; back then, it was those remarkable trucks with all of the stickers. I’ll be looking out for that blog post!!! 🙂

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    • Especially when it is written with a quill, on an oak table with a candelabra nearby….

      We are romantics!!!

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    • You are starting a trend! The idea of cursive writing is being hotly debated. I know from experience that my ideas flow better when I type simply because I have been using the keyboard for many years. The brain functions differently when we write. I am uncertain as to the final outcome on writing – but humanity will progress one way or another. After all, we are not using papyrus or chiseling stone. I think that you will appreciate this link!

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22157892

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      • I’ve also heard that writing by hand stimulates creativity. I think it’s true, because before I start to write a letter, I groan a little, but as soon as that pen starts to move, the ideas flow. I’ve heard that they’re going to stop teaching cursive in America. I tried to get my 12 year old niece to write me as a creativity exercise for her, but she’s just not into it. There’s just something special about seeing a personal letter in a mailbox. I might write a post about it one day.

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      • Please do! I agree. Writing is an act of transformation. The hand becomes an extension of the brain. Cursive writing is the stepping stone to painting, music, dance. I’ll look out for your post – You know that I always look forward to them. 🙂

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      • p.s. I’ve found that it’s very difficult to find nice paper stationery. Note cards are still around, but if I write a long letter, I usually need to use outdated paper with horses or butterflies. I draw the line at cats, though. 😉

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      • You’re right! I just googled personalized stationary – lots of note cards and notepads, magnets, recipe cards tags and napkins. I remember the note paper from my “hippy days” – lots of big flowers and puffy letters that said “peace and love.” BTW, the stationary with cats are very cute. “Purrfect Hug Your Cat Day.” 😆

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      • Hahaha. I like all animals, but there’s something about cat stationery that says “crazy cat lady”. Although, it would be funny to use it as a joke and see if anyone notices. 🙂

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    • I am trying to figure out how to keep them organized and preserved. I started to scan them into my computer, but then so much is missing when you see it on the screen. If you any any ideas let me know – I’m open.

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      • I haven’t figured out what to do myself. It can be a monumental task. I have to confess I rather like the idea of letting them sit in a box tied up with ribbon; I don’t know, truly, if we are ‘meant’ to keep these things forever. I think libraries use archival boxes and big brown manila envelopes…????? Is a research visit to a museum or archival library in order?

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      • It’s complex; more complex than I imagined. The ChCh Library blog always has something interesting to say and they are also digitizing a lot of their old material.

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      • I’ll check ChCh out – and will always ask at the Vancouver Public Library. But I’m with you – I like the ribbons and boxes…

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      • In fact, it quite surprises me how long some of my photos and papers have lasted in the most haphazard of conditions. Family photos and papers too.

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      • Me too! I have letters that my mother wrote to her mother from our time in Brazil. (Her mother kept every one of them) Have you ever noticed that family photos and mementos are the most valued of any estate?

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      • Yes, they are; more precious than gold. Perhaps those old letters are so fingered and read and held that they are preserved with our essential bodily oils 😉

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  2. My hubby & I have kept all our letters, cards, notes, etc. that we’ve written to each other through the years. On the occasions we look at them, it’s joyful, and funny, and valuable. Part of the reason we’ve done this is so we have these conversations to remind us of our moments together when one of us is not longer around. I treasure my pieces of paper… Thank you.

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    • I know exactly what you mean. I found a Valentine’s day card from my husband that he gave me several years ago! I was so moved when I saw it again. The memories came back – so real, fresh, and full of love! I treasure those pieces of paper, too!!! They give strength for the road ahead….

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  3. So appropriate for bloggers, who really are in many ways, writing letters. This post is perfect for critics who say that blogging is distant communication because it is not face to face. Phooey to that! Tell them John Donne says we are mingling souls! Bravo Rebecca~

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    • I started to applaud when I read your comments. Bloggers are taking their place in history; this form of communication is becoming a preferred choice because we are able to hold a conversation with the world! Blogging is not a passing trend, it is a full-fledged movement. And we are active participants!! We are indeed “mingling souls.” 🙂

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    • I hope not either! There is something special about going to “get the mail” and finding a letter from a faraway place waiting for you….

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