Weighing Words

"How long does a poem have to be? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that every word was once a poem. I havenít read too many one-word poems lately, but several possibilities spring immediately to mind: Rose; Substance; Trolley; Hearth; Parting; Precipice. At the same time, there are words that might have started out as poems, but that now grate upon the ear, such as: Election; Referendum; Property; Focus. What it boils down to, I think, is that every word is a poem when it passes through a childís lips, and every word becomes, to some degree, a weapon or prison in the mind of an adult." William Michaelian

Man Weighing Gold, ca. 1515Ė20 Adriaen Isenbrant (act. by 1510, d. 1551) Oil on wood The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931; 32.100.36

The act of weighing gold has consistently caught the attention of artists. Among the earliest portraits of a sitter shown engaged in his profession, this picture by Adriaen Isenbrant provides an interesting comparison with Christusís Goldsmith in His Shop, Possibly Saint Eligius. The sitter may have been a banker, a money changer, or one of the many sixteenth-century merchants who handled both commodities and money. His thoughtful expression suggests that the act of weighing gold coins has a symbolic as well as a literal significance here and perhaps alludes to the weighing of souls by Saint Michael on Judgment Day.

Woman Weighing Gold by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer

builds on the ritual ceremony of Ancient Egypt. The woman in this painting treats the ceremony with reverence similar to Anubis

For the Ancient Egyptians the "afterlife" was a very important concept. Once a person died there were a number of steps that needed to be taken to ensure their continued existence. Mythologically the deceased person came before the god Osiris and denied having committed any offenses in their lifetime. The most famous and telling trial was the weighing of the heart. In this ceremony the feather of Ma'at, the goddess of truth, was weighed against the heart of the deceased. If the heart was not heavier than the feather the person was able to continue on into their afterlife, however if, because of sins, the heart was heavier than the feather, the soul of the person was devoured by a chimeric amalgam of hippopotamus, crocodile and lion.

Anubis was the Patron of Embalming. He was also the Keeper of Poisons and Medicines. He provided unguents and rare herbs to help Isis and Nephthys with the embalming of Osiris. Anubis, then performed the funeral of Osiris, which would be the model for all funerals to come. As he received the mummy into the tomb, he performed the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony. In the "Hall of Maat", Anubis appears on behalf of the diseased. It was Anubis who saw that the beam of the great scale was in the proper position as he supervised the weighing of the heart of a deceased person against the "Feather of Maat." The God of Knowledge, Thoth, records the results. It is also Anubis that protects the dead from Ammut, the "Devourer."


What if the act of weighing words took on the same importance as weighing gold? What if, instead of measuring the heart against a feather you measured the heart against the weight of words uttered during this ceremeony?

In Word Fever, by William Michaelian, Michaelian explores the notion of weighing words.

Meditate upon the weight of your words and write a piece that is heavier than the heart and assures immortality.

Weighing Words

Word Fever by William Michaelian
Weighing The Heart by Alexandra Roman


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