I find Pico Iyer's essay quite humorous and full of irony. The author brilliantly approaches the importance of punctuation as it is necessary in our writings to give a natural flow, rhythm and order to express our ideas or statements. Iyer wisely compares a period to a red light when the ending comes whereas commas are like yellow lights which flash asking us to slow down. Besides he states that life without punctuation could be chaotic and to exemplify this idea he makes a connection with Victorian Age strict rules and corsets that later Modernists got rid of.
In the end, Iyer reinforces his idea of punctuation to say, that in order to achieve important things in life we have to care about the little ones. And taking the time to punctuate where it is necessary, though it may seem a harsh job, it is the way to highlight a text as a whole.
I would highly recommend reading this essay. As a reader I felt invited to read it from the very first line. But the most enjoyable passages are especially the ones where the author uses imagery, comparisons and personifications as literary resources to state his ideas clearly and humorously.
In June 2001, journalist Pico Iyer wrote an essay in praise of the humble comma for Time magazine that for the first time made punctuation humorous, inviting, and fun for me. Until then, it had been nothing but an unceasing drudgery of rules and rote memorization. Of course, Lynne Truss's book Eats, Shoots and Leaves was to follow later and indelibly impress upon my mind the importance of grammar with verve and wit.
"The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said — could it not? — of the humble comma." So starts Pico Iyer's essay. He, then, goes on to write: "Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it, and the mind is deprived of a resting place."
"By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words. Punctuation, then, is a civic prop, a pillar that holds society upright."
"Punctuation [...] becomes the signature of cultures. The anarchy and commotion of the '60s were given voice in the exploding exclamation marks, riotous capital letters and Day-Glo italics of Tom Wolfe's spray-paint prose. Yet punctuation is something more than a culture's birthmark; it scores the music in our minds, gets our thoughts moving to the rhythm of our hearts. Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; [...] Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus [...]"
"Punctuation, in short, gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words. 'You aren't young, are you?' loses its innocence when it loses the question mark. Every child knows the menace of a dropped apostrophe (the parent's 'Don't do that' shifting into the more slowly enunciated 'Do not do that'), and every believer, the ignominy of having his faith reduced to 'faith'. Add an exclamation point to 'To be or not to be...' and the gloomy Dane has all the resolve he needs; add a comma, and the noble sobriety of 'God save the Queen' becomes a cry of desperation bordering on double sacrilege."
This essay is quite simply marvelous, isn't it. Go HERE to read it in its entirety.
Just who's Pico Iyer? Here's an interview of him by Scott London. "Pico Iyer once referred to himself as 'a global village on two legs.' It's a fitting description for someone born in England to Indian parents, immigrated to California as a boy, was later educated at Eton and Oxford, and now spends much of his time in Japan." Another interview with him by Oregon Live.
(Oh, yes, and National Punctuation Day is September 24.)