What is Speak What We Feel?

I unashamedly stole this title from Frederick Buechner, who borrowed it for his book from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Buechner’s book is important to me. It has taught me about writing and about life.

Buechner’s Speak What We Feel is a literary criticism (though so packed full of life-insights, it’s not what probably comes to mind when you hear the term ‘literary criticism’) that highlights four different writers of four different genres. He chooses a work from each that was written from “open veins;” in other words, written from the groping, questioning darkness of their souls. Buechner calls these four, “unexpected prophets who shine light into darkness,” because this kind of writing — the kind of writing that’s birthed from an honest pursuit of truth and meaning in reality amid the pain and suffering of this fallen world — this kind of writing (or art in general) produces light, hope, healing — not only for the author, but for his readers too.

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

‘Speak what we feel’ isn’t about an abandonment of propriety. That’s the last thing I want. It’s about having the freedom to feel “unchristian” emotions — anger, fear, doubt, depression — and to work through them in a constructive way. But it isn’t only about the freedom to weep with those who weep; it’s also about the freedom to rejoice with those who rejoice. So, although part of the context from which speak what we feel derives is heavy (it doesn’t get much heavier than a Shakespearean tragedy), the larger context includes weeping and rejoicing, the fullness of life; working through the dark night to the light of morning—the context is light.


For more discussion about speak what we feel, see also Speak What We Feel: Virtuous or Vicious?

Also related: Telling the Truth


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