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Writing for Life #2: Reading and Reworking

Updated on June 18, 2013

Let the Thousand Voices Sing


"If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King, On Writing

“What’s writing?”

“Words that stay. My master taught me.” – The Dark Crystal

Reading is essential to writing. When we read, we broaden our knowledge base and travel to unknown worlds. We reach beyond our own awareness to experience an entirely different life. We give ourselves entirely to the words before us and allow them to lead the way. These words are our guides – not only in our reading, but in our writing as well.

Writing can be a difficult craft even at the best of times. It may be intimidating and overwhelming by turns; it may leave us feeling helpless or bursting with potential. Its capacity to evoke such strong reactions in both author and reader is equaled only by its potential for endurance. Writers choose their words with such care because they understand the delicacy and the power of the tools at their disposal.

We all want our writing to be “words that stay.”


“[W]hen he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word…” - Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

For this exercise, I have chosen to excerpt a paragraph from a novel I have grown to love after many re-readings. The quote given above is taken from that same paragraph.I introduce it so early for two reasons: to identify my source and as a kind of “clue”. (I do love a good mystery!)

Speaking of mysteries, let us consider Siddhartha. In the paragraph below, Siddhartha stands on the bank of a river. It is a river he has come to love over many years. Just as I have returned to read Siddhartha many times, so has Siddhartha returned to listen to “his” river on many different occasions. Yet this time is different:the river offers Siddhartha a very special gift.

Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now finished learning to listen. Often before, he had heard all this, these many voices in the river, today it sounded new. Already, he could no longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.

I chose to convey the message of this paragraph through a poem. While I had initially intended to accomplish a “pure rework” – i.e., a re-phrasing – of the paragraph in prose, I found myself inspired to compose a unique poem which attempts to convey a similar message. How can I argue with that?

Use your understanding of this exercise when you read "Home". Consider the following questions as you read:

  • Does the poem successfully communicate a message similar to that of its “parent” composition?
  • Is the message of the poem sufficiently clear to function independently?
  • Does the physical structure of the poem contribute to or detract from its intended message?


Open: but be soft. The compassionate ear
blossoms, joyous in its waking.

Listen, but be gentle: sometimes
strength commands surrender.

Unfold: a welcome thousand
voices call you home.

Once you finish your study, take a moment to step away and clear your thoughts.When you are ready, take another look at the “clue” I offered in my introduction to this exercise and consider its possible relevance to the poem.Can you find any recurring element(s) in “Home” which might be the answer to that clue? If not, don't worry -- your answer is part of the plan for an upcoming Hub!

Works Cited

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. G. Olesch, A. Dreher, A. Coulter, S. Langer and S. Chaichenets (Transl.). Retrieved from

King, S. (2000) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Memorable Quotes for The Dark Crystal. [date unknown]. The Internet
Movie Database. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from


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