The Pupil and the Writer

It had been seven long years since he had left his mother. The writer was a distant cousin, or friend of hers before the revolution. Seven years and he had not yet discovered their link. All he knew was that she could no longer care for him, and the writer had agreed to tutor him in his craft.

He could not read before he met the writer, yet he had heard of his fame. Some from afar claimed that he was a witch who had ensnared the Muse and held her naked and captive within the walls of his bare skull. It was said he would release her only when he had made his fortune.

For all his brilliance, however, he had no tact and consequently no fortune. The boy had spent enough time with the writer to know that he was no witch. Once he learned to read and write of his own accord, however, it was unmistakable that some hint of sorcery lived within the writer’s words.

For seven years the writer kept his promise to educate the boy, teaching him the seven languages of the world. After seven years, the boy began to grow restless. He had dreamed of writing something of his own, but the writer would not grant his permission. “You are not ready,” he would say. “There are many steps to becoming a writer. Many after you pick up the pen, many more still before.”

Whenever he felt this way, he would write another copy of the Holy Book. Because he had it memorized, the chore had become one that allowed him to daydream. It allowed him to dream up his stories.

He had been in this state when the sounds from the library and the courtyard began to distract him. It pleased him.

Writing in silence is much less satisfying, he thought. Though music is distracting. Sounds from the outside are distracting. The ticking of the clock is distracting. But, these are also triggers of my subconscious-digging deep into my hidden memory and imagination.

Where is the balance?

“Where is the balance,” he said to the writer. He had been busy writing on his own.

“There is more to words than their meaning,” said the writer, guessing at the boy’s thoughts.

“How so?”

The writer leaned and set his head askew. “Surely, you must know that words are symbols.”

“Of course, I know they’re symbols,” said the student. “Each letter represents a sound, and together these sounds form language, which represents conscious thought shared with another.”

“What an agonizingly obvious description,” groaned the writer. “Did you not also know that words are forms of art?”

“Yes,” said the student. “Of course literature is art.”

“No!” cried the writer. “You are wrong.” He stood now, towering above his student. His beard trembled with his voice. “Not what words make up. Words themselves. Letters themselves. These are beautiful shapes and curves and finite lines that themselves tell a story of strength and weakness, sin and death, prayer and pestilence. Finite and yet, limitless! How can you be so stupid! I do not know why I agreed to help your mother.”

The student felt himself swallow, though he had not commanded it so. He had never seen the writer so filled with anger, and now, having felt the direction of it, felt his own.

He choked a reply, “Me? Stupid?” He staggered from under the writer’s gaze and stood taller than he could remember. He had endured his insufferable master long enough. “How can you be so stupid?”

The writer’s temper boiled. “How dare you! Explain yourself, or be cast from my tutelage!”

“Do you not hear yourself? These lines and curves and shapes do not exist in the air you breathe or the venom you spit at me! Men spoke long before they wrote! Where is your precious art in that?”

And then he became silent. And the writer watched him. And he knew. He was wrong.

“Words are art,” he said to himself.

The writer, fearing to frighten away the epiphany, whispered. “Explain.”

“In written form. In sound. In definition. In corpus. One cannot be ignored in favor of another, for they are the same.”

“Go on,” coaxed the writer.

“The power of connotations fill words and are the reason for their inclusion. They are included for the message of that moment, or to increase the power of a later message. Or the total message.”

“What else?”

“In poetry and song, the sound of words are pleasing, or displeasing, as the creator intends, according to rhyme, harshness, softness, repetition…”


“Even the way they are manifested has meaning and power.”


“To create a work worthy of such an end of remembrance, all forms of art must be considered.”

The writer relaxed. And smiled.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You now have my permission to write.”


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