The Chimaera: Issue 4, September 2008

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The communistic society of the ancient Spartans may have contributed little to art or thought, but the name of their city-state, Laconia, has provided several Modern European languages with a word for not wasting words. In response to Philip of Macedon’s threat, “If I enter Laconia, you will be exterminated,” the Spartans sent back one word, “If.” Fittingly, when Simonides wrote his epitaph on the Spartans fallen at Thermopylae he limited it to two lines:

Tell them at Lacedaemon, passer-by,
That here obedient to their law we lie.

Brevity need not be a sign of haste or rush. Often the contrary is true. “With more time I would have written a shorter letter.” Cicero seems to be the earliest source of this idea, but many writers have echoed it, including Pascal, Nietzsche, Thoreau (“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short ”) and Mark Twain (“If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare”).

What does concision in prose and poetry offer? If “Small is beautiful”, Succinct is... what? Graceful, forceful, swift, subtle — that last being, of course, where artful implication leaves some imaginative work for the reader.

Those qualities are richly evident in the poems and stories in this section. Multum in parvo — enjoy.

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