Saturday, 21 July 2007

margaret atwood

marsh languages

The dark soft languages are being silenced:
Mothertongue Mothertongue Mothertongue
falling one by one back into the moon.

Language of marshes
language of the roots of rushes tangled
together in the ooze,
marrow cells twinning themselves
inside the warm core of the bone:
pathways of hidden light in the body fade and wink out.

The sibilants and gutturals,
the cave language, the half-light
forming at the back of the throat,
the mouth's damp velvet moulding
the lost syllable for 'I' that did not mean separate,
all are becoming sounds no longer
heard because no longer spoken,
and everything that could once be said in them has
ceased to exist.

The languages of the dying suns
are themselves dying,
but even the word for this has been forgotten.
The mouth against skin, vivid and fading,
can no longer speak both cherishing and farewell.
It is now only a mouth, only skin.
There is no more longing.

Translation was never possible.
Instead there was always only
conquest, the influx
of the language of hard nouns,
the language of metal,
the language of either/or,
the one language that has eaten all the others.

which seems like a good poem to start a thread on language but, much as i like it, it doesn't ring true to me. there's too much of that eskimos have so many words for snow argument that's at once so patronising and so inaccurate.
once i went to see a compilation of gaelic words about fishing boats, the work of fishing, pencil written pages, description after description of waves, words that even the oldest speakers could no longer remember
and then there was the language of the foundries whose sound i can't remember, only the stories, of the man falling into molten metal, vapourising before he hit the surface. now these factories, that provided cannon for empire, are buried under houses

what is it in us that makes us want to preserve? that can't accept that all things, including language, pass? is it the fear that one day our own word will just be dust and we with them?

No comments: