Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Languages 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 langage,
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.


This poem uses language very cleverly to describe language, be it it's temporality, or the developments and variation in language over time which we call vernacular or slang. In explaining an intangible yet powerful instrument such as language, Sandburg states "There are no handles on a language whereby men take hold of it". This image of someone attempting to grab a language physically and yet the language slipping from them due to it's lack of handles appeals to the mind's eye in a really interesting way. Sandburg next departs from this idea to the image of a language being a river, once in a thousand years creating a new course, describing how the words we use every so often change dramatically in the development of a language. By referencing the extinct language of heiroglyphics, the author emphasizes yet again that every good language must come to an end, only for new languages to be born. I thought that this poem was very clever and linguistally very pleasant. I thought his images appealed and further enhanced the poem immensely.

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