Text: Solveig Hansen, IFLAC Web Editor
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, IFLAC adopted “The pen is mightier than the sword” as slogan for our dove logo. Maybe not very original, but it is apt and we like it. The man to thank for this phrase is Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873).
Cambridge Dictionaries defines this idiom as “thinking and writing have more influence on people than the use of force or violence.” Isn’t that what writers aspire to: find the right composition of words that moves and shakes and transforms – or maybe puts a smile on the reader’s face?
The pencil & sword analogy is not a new one. In the biblical Epistle to the Hebrews, for instance, verse 4:12 reads: “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
According to Wikipedia, “The pen is mightier than the sword” as a phrase was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his historical play about Cardinal Richelieu (1839). Richelieu discovers a plot to kill him, but as a priest he cannot take up arms against his enemies. His page, Francis, tells him: But now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord. Richelieu agrees: The pen is mightier than the sword, he says, Take away the sword; States can be saved without it!
A literature critic wrote that Bulwer-Lytton had achieved something that few men could hope to do: write a line that is likely to live for ages. Of course, today we just call them one-liners.
Although the phrase was penned by Bulwer-Lytton, there are earlier texts emphasizing the power of words:
Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.
William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, Act 2: … many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.
Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly said: Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.
Going back to the 4th century BC, the Greek playwright Euripides supposedly wrote: The tongue is mightier than the blade.
So, IFLAC is in good company when we declare that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
Feel free to add an IFLAC dove to your site. We have several variations for you to choose from. Please link back to our website: iflac.wordpress.com
Essay by Tarek Heggy
I have been writing for a quarter of a century in order to instill in the Egyptian mind that we are, first and foremost, Egyptians. Our identity is shaped by our geographical location on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. We have Muslim, Christian, Arab and African ties, but none of them can replace our only identity as Egyptians.
I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind the fact that although the outside world will harbour animosities towards us at times, and will work to further its own interests most of the time, our problems, in their entirety, originate inside our country and can only be solved internally. We alone are responsible for those problems and for the fact that they remain unsolved. The excessive belief in the conspiracy theory is a confession of our impotence and an admission of the supremacy of others in the face of our ineffectiveness.
Patrick Sammut, Vice-President of the Maltese Poets Association, published the following interview with Ada Aharoni about the role of writer/poet in the light of the recent world events.
The world today is facing very hard times. I just mention the floods that struck parts of Australia, the quake and tsunami in Japan and the following nuclear threat, and the civil war in Libya. How much do events like these touch the poet/writer? Did you react to such events through some kind of writing (poetry, novel, etc.)?
I would like to write a poem about the tragic disaster in Japan, but am so overwhelmed by the danger of nuclear fumes, that I feel it chokes me, and I haven’t been able to write a poem that satisfies me yet.
Do you think that the writer/poet must express himself and sound his voice regarding such events as soon as possible? What is the role of the writer/poet faced with events like these? Is this role less or more important than that of today’s politicians?
It is indeed very important for poets to be leaders and to freely express what they have on their minds and in their hearts, and especially to try through their words and art to improve the situation. The politician’s role is to find immediate relief, but his actions will not always be remembered. On the other hand, the poet can express truths that will survive and speak out to generations after generations, as for instance the Peace Poems of the British Poet Wilfred Owen, who wrote during the First World War.
The writer/poet has been insisting on the need for peace and respect of nature for decades. Perhaps now the people in general will understand that writers/poets were right. Do you think writers/poets are doing their utmost to make their plea heard? What more can be done?
It is a pity that not all writers understand the importance of presenting and dealing with social subjects, as for instance, the importance of peace. What can be done perhaps is to impress on poets that they should be “great minds”, and feel responsible for the welfare of their planet.
There is a need for governments and authorities to acknowledge the utmost importance of disciplines such as History, Literature, Philosophy and the like. Modern society does not need only science, finance, marketing, economics and management. How do you react to such a statement?
I certainly fully agree with this statement, especially in the case of literature and history – for a person, or a people, without roots – cannot survive.
Poem by Ada Aharoni: Cherry Blossoms will Bloom Again in Japan