Sunday, 8 November 2009

Languages and Poetry


by Carl Sandburg

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

Good point, Carl. However, poetry may be a particularly bad way to make points about language change, as Paul Valery says in The Art of Poetry, "poetry can be recognised by its ability to get us to reproduce it in its own form: it stimulates us to reconstruct it identically."

On the other hand, although poetry has a small transmission error in terms of phonetic reproduction, the fidelity of conceptual interpretation may be a different story. Show me a class of high school English Literature students, and I'll show you eleven different, badly written interpretations.

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