Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Kew Gardens" and the (Un)Importance of Words

While I was reading "Kew Gardens," I must've listened to over a dozen different songs. I can't tell you what any of them wee, except that "I Am the Walrus" is coo-coo-coochoo-ing its way into my ears right now. The words don't matter, they just provide a backdrop for my thoughts.
In "Kew Gardens," several different couples go by. They all have something in common--they aren't there for the words, but they aren't there for the flowers either. I don't imagine that anyone really goes to Kew Gardens for the flowers though they are quite spectacular. Unless you're a botanist, the Gardens themselves simply provide the background for whatever conversation or introspection you might be engaging in that day. In "Kew Gardens," Woolf seems to be suggesting that the words passing between the couples are as unimportant to them as the flowers of Kew Gardens.
The first couple, a husband and wife, are so preoccupied with "thinking of the past" (85) that their children don't warrant any attention other than an occasional head-turn from the woman (84). The man thinks back to a time in the Gardens where one of the most important decisions of his life was made. Lily's answer to his marriage proposal, the actual "yes" or "no," isn't what the man notices. Instead of the words themselves, he hangs all of his hope on an aimless dragonfly who "went round and round: it never settled anywhere." (85) His wife, lost in thoughts of her past, remembers a time when an action, a kiss from an old woman, affected her more deeply than words ever could--"the mother of all my kisses all my life." (85) The words that pass between the couple, these "falling words," (87) between all the couples, seem to have all the importance of strangers exchanging small-talk about the weather. They're the soundtrack of a walk through Kew Gardens, but the important things are the ghosts of the past, all the might-have-beens and actions of the moments that really affect us. Woolf seems to be suggesting that words, though a necessary aspect of life, prevent us from fully reflecting on our thoughts, and startle us awake (87) to remind us of the canyon that exists between "one's happiness, one's reality." (85)

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