The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart

February 15, 2008 at 1:22 am Leave a comment

Jack Gilbert

Listen (to Gilbert read)

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Who hasn’t hoped for lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can? Most of us, at one time or another, have breathed life into words, only to see them turn into monstrous Frankensteins that get it all wrong. Isn’t lovely then to be convinced that what we feel must not be something unique and inexpressible but amber or cinnamon?

The reading is from the most recent poets.org Poetcast.

[blackmamba]

Entry filed under: Black Mamba, English, Jack Gilbert. Tags: .

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