Sprezzatura in writing

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

A line [of poetry] will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

William Butler Yeats, Adam’s Curse

I just came across this quote from Yeats in Robert Greene‘s The 48 Laws of Power. More specifically, in Law Number 30, which says (page 245):

Make your accomplishments seem effortless. Your actions must seem natural and executed with ease. All the toil and practice that go into them, and also all the clever tricks, must be concealed. When you act, act effortlessly, as if you could do much more. Avoid the temptation of revealing how hard you work–it only raises questions. Teach no one your tricks or they will be used against you.

Greene takes us through a Japanese tea ceremony, through Houdini’s vanishing acts and other artistic/aesthetic feats that would be ruined if the effort were visible.

The best word to describe the ideal is sprezzatura. Italians are better at it than most. It is “the capacity to make the difficult seem easy” and “a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”

It’s why Michelangelo, master of sprezzatura, kept his work-in-progress under wraps and would not allow even the pope to sneak a peek. Would have killed the magic.

Ease = Beauty = Power.

Writers strive for it. I do.

Here, by the way, is a sixteen-minute TED talk on “glamor,” where we discover that they key is…. sprezzatura!