‘The pen is mightier than the sword’

LEAFING through the souvenirs I’ve accumulated from the DOSC (Downtown Oakland Senior Center) in California of Uncle Sam country— what else but the beloved U.S. of A. where I’m now residing — I perused a long while on a sheet  that carried the title of this column: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Long intro, dear readers, but take heed of this quote from English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, circa 1839. In Bulwer-Lytton’s play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, Cardinal Richelieu astounded his comrades with a stunning conviction:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great/

The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold

The arch-enchanters wand! — itself is nothing! —

But taking sorcery from the master-hand

To paralyze the Caesars, and to strike

The loud earth breathless! — take away the sword! —

States can be saved without it!

The Senior Center’s eye-catcher was boldly titled: THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD, followed by a short background: “In 1870, literary critic Edward Sherman Gould wrote that Bulwer “had the good fortune to do, what few men can hope to do: he wrote a line that is likely to live for ages.” The Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, which opened in 1897, has the adage decorating an interior wall for all visitors to see: THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD. Though Bulwer’s phrasing was novel, the idea of communication surpassing violence in efficacy had numerous predecessors.” The resolute reader will go on goggling for episodes in history when the pen proved mightier than the sword.

I absolutely agree with critic Sherman Gould that Bulwer’s “the pen is mightier than the sword” will live on for ages. Living on for ages, is our own Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, iconic novels that continue to inspire beyond the sharp bolos and other weapons of old. And not to forget the writings of another hero, lawyer Apolinario Mabini. Tagged as the Sublime Paralytic, ill health did not deter him as “the brain of the revolution” that established the First Philippine Republic under General Emilio Aguinaldo.

Let me go personal on this throwback decades ago when this “ancient” pen-pusher was editing the high school organ, The Seaside Echo — so named because Oton High School, my alma mater, is a short walk to the sea. That was the era of young minds immune to political wrangles; devoted instead to writing poems and essays on pent-up emotions — to continue in UPIC Monthly of UP Iloilo College (no UP Visayas by then). But times do change, and perspectives. Take this doggerel I submitted to The New York Times which did not win an award, as I had expected. Enough that I had expressed my belief.

Breakdown the Trumpism Wall!!!

Where’s the road most travelled?

I don’t see Kennedy, Lincoln, and Jefferson?

Smoke gets into my eyes

I can’t see anymore.

The smoke has engulfed my mind, body, and soul

Breakdown the Trumpism Wall!!!


Building a massive wall between Mexico and America does not jibe with this Fil-Am dual citizen. Tis President Donald Trump’s dream, anyway. I am also imbued by the idea that we are all immigrants on Planet Earth. Think Star Wars and other science fictions that have thrilled the young.

At the Oakland Senior Center, we are encouraged to be pen-pushers. We write vagaries of emotions and ideas — be it in the Poetry Writing Class or in Current Events sessions. In one class, I posted the question of the eminent writer Mark Twain: What is it that the blind can see and the deaf can hear? Many answered Love. Close to it, you might say. Kindness is Mark Twain’s answer to his own question. Acts of kindness that we show to a fellow being may or may not carry with it the passion of love. Nonetheless, compassion or generosity is omnipresent.

What are we seniors urged to do? Write for social change: write letters to the editors, write to elected officials, sign or initiate petitions. Well, oh well, I’ve been writing columns for years — to effect societal change — sparingly for now, because I’m writing a novel. To heck with the weekly deadlines. With novel-writing, you write at your own pace: three paragraphs in a day; in a week or even a month, not a word at all.

Okay, see you later, alligator.  ([email protected])


Julia Carreon-Lagoc was a columnist for two decades. She pops up with Accents now and then./PN


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