Maria Popova introduces Consolations by David Whyte

7 November 2019

As we publish Consolations by David Whyte we wanted to share the introduction by Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings and Figuring), which does a wonderful job of getting to the heart of this endlessly rich book – a series of revelatory, poetic meditations on the meanings of 52 ordinary words.

‘Words belong to each other,’ Virginia Woolf’s scratchy voice unspools from the only surviving recording of her aural presence. Indeed, words are our creation, but our Pygmalian love for them must not deceive us – they do not belong to us, for they are not static figures of thought to be owned and traded as artefacts.They are living organisms, elastic and porous, feral with meaning, ever-evolving. They possess us more than we possess them.They feed on us more than we feed on them. Words belong to each other, and we to them.

And yet the commonest words in our lexicon – those tasked with containing and conveying the most elemental human truths and experiences – are slowly being shorn of meaning: assaulted by misuse, abraded by overuse, overthought and underconsidered, trampled of dimension and discoloured of nuance.

In Consolations, David Whyte repatriates us in the land of language by giving words back to themselves and, in this generous act, giving us back to ourselves – we, sensemaking creatures who navigate this old maze of a world through the mightiest figuring faculty we have: language itself. For each word he chooses – anger, longing, silence – Whyte composes less a redefinition than a reanimation, less Cawdrey than Montaigne.There is tremendous kindness and generosity of spirit under- girding his micro-essays, reinstating each word and the meaning it carries as a truth not only human but humane. ‘Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness,’ he writes of a word so hollowed in our era of social media ‘friends’, in our culture so conditioned on unforgiving cynicism and distracted flight from presence. On the enchanted loom of his poetic imagination, Whyte mends these most threadbare words into splendid tapestries of thought and feeling, lush with reclaimed meaning. What emerges is that supreme gift of being: a deeper sense of belonging – of words, to words, and to ourselves.

— Maria Popova