Dead Languages.

A poem by Ursula K. Le Guin (from Late in the Day: Poems 2010–2014):

    Dead Languages

Dreadful, this death, dragging
so many lives and lively minds along
after it into unmeaning,
endless, imbecile silence.

The more ways there are to say Mother
the wiser the world is.
Never are there enough
words for Well done! or Welcome!

A line of verse revives lost Aprils.
In the name for Home lie whole nations.
The unused word may be the useful one.

Old nouns are in no hurry.
Old verbs are very patient.
The water of life is learning.

May elders ever tell the mythic origins
in the almost-lost old language
to children cheated of knowledge
of their own holy inheritance.

May myopic scholars scowl
forever at fragments of inscription,
so that the young may yawn
long over grim grammars, learning

to speak the tongues unspoken
and hear a human music otherwise unheard.

Thanks, JC!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    OK. As everyone else seems to have too much respect for the poem, poet, and sentiments expressed to comment at all, let me just say “Preach it, sister!”

  2. I’m glad you liked it — I was starting to think my wife was the only one who did!

  3. Trond Engen says

    I like it too, but I had a whole week of comments to get through before saying it.

    That effortless stream of insisting alliterative phrases, and those -ing forms giving you first one meaning and then another — I like it so much I want to use it myself. And since it’s something I wouldn’t want to switch to English to say, I’ve been thinking on a translation, but the very qualities that give it force make it hard to translate.

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