Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Office of dead languages

To name is to know and remember. Dana Gioia

Stilled tongue of a past
People: way of life, naming,
Knowing the world, dead


god-free morals said...

i like the Gioia quote very much and agree with you that as a language dies (is lost) so to does that way of describing the world and thus 'that' the world (... was about to go into a whole philosophy lecture, but have stopped myself i keep boring people).

this is my favourite haiku of yours so far. keep it up!

Nora said...

Thanks, Chris. I got the idea for the haiku from this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/science/19language.html.

Dana Gioia (www.danagioia.net) is one of my favorite poets, and the poem from which I took the quote is probably my favorite:


The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.