‘The Language of Diamonds’

In one of Lawrence Durrell’s poems there is a wonderful line:

Give us the language of diamonds

The Death of General Uncebunke, Fourteen Carols (V)

That simple phrase – “the language of diamonds” – has always seemed to me complex, profound, powerful, beautiful. The subtlety of it comes in the unpacking of it of course, and drawing the parallels between words and diamonds.

Diamonds are tough and unyielding – the hardest natural substance currently known – yet they can also be shaped and facetted. In the right light, they can sparkle and shine, lure and entrance. Occasionally they can almost be without price.

Are words like that? A word is a word. ‘Clock’ is ‘clock’ and nothing else; in that sense perhaps it is as hard and unyielding as diamond. As soon as you change it – removing the first ‘c’, for example – it becomes something else and is no longer ‘clock’. You might argue this proves words are not ‘hard’ and incorruptible, but at the most basic level you have done nothing to the word ‘clock’; it is still there, when you need it…

Yet in spite of this inability to ‘corrupt’ words [was that partly what Joyce was trying to do in Finnegan’s Wake], we can still make them shine. We do this, not by grinding them into a new shape or polishing them as individual gems, but by giving them relationships to other words. What are novels and poems if not an attempt to make words ‘shine like diamonds’? And like diamonds, the ‘value’ of our creations comes from how they sparkle, their uniqueness, the inventiveness of their juxtapositions – or if you want to pursue the metaphor further, from their setting, the baseness (or otherwise) of the ‘metal’ in which they reside.

For me, trying to make words sparkle like diamonds is almost a reason for being.

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