Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not Language but a Map

"The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart"

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 couple on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets wre translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems and psalms?  My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
Oh 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.

~ Jack Gilbert  (1925 - )

added note: Jack passed on November 13, 2012.

My photo of ancient rock art taken outside Moab, UT.


  1. On the other hand, isn't it true that there also exists a surplus of meaning, a resonance, a thrilling shock of recognition when just the right word appears?

    Still, this paean to "almost-meaning" is so provocative and delicate. My favorite line is, "My joy is the same as twelve Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light." If I had to live my with only one sentence to meditate upon, that one might do very well!

  2. Linda, I couldn't agree more. There's nothing like just the right word showing up right on time.

    And, like you, I love that line. It's a beautiful sentence, isn't it? I love all it implies.

  3. Wonderful, Teresa. What I like best is the title of the piece, "The Lost Dialect of the Heart." There's much wisdom here.

  4. Oh, me, too, George. It was that title that drew me in immediately. I wanted to hear more. I've come back a few times and am struck by something new every time.

  5. I had a singular out of body experience shortly after my son was born (37 years ago), but I will never forget what it felt like to be back here with these peep-hole, tunnel-vision eyes and attempting to communicate with fat tongues by using symbolic words that mean different things to each person in all our various symbol-languages while being trapped inside of these fragile physical bodies. And we can hide huge parts of ourselves from each other...present false images...on and on. I have never looked at communication quite the same way. And it has made it more exhilarating when it feels like my soul has truly connected with another's...even for one fleeting moment in time. There is nothing more holy to me.

  6. Rita, That's beautiful. I'm so glad you've posted it here. It really could be a wonderful post in itself. Your statement, "attempting to communicate with fat tongues by using symbolic words that mean different things to each person..." The whole comment is so true. And your last statement summarizes how I feel about these moments, too. Yes,
    nothing more holy..." Thank you So Much.

  7. "Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
    of long-fibered Egyptian cotton."

    Awesome, but honestly, two are enough for me! :D

  8. Will, LOL. It was the Egyptian cotton that stood out for me. Once I discovered Egyptian cotton sheets there was no turning back. Absolutely Divine. No connection, of course. ;)

  9. It will not surprise you to know that I took a photograph of of a petroglyph in Utah depicting a sheep pooping.

  10. It's a nice thought : but they are always business records, always lists of who owns what or who owes who what. It isn't that the accountants have inherited the earth, I fear it was theirs from the start.

  11. Murr, You're right, it does not. Thank you for your contributions to the scatological sciences.

    Alan, I know you're not a Bible-totin' kinda guy, but there are the Psalms.... Do they count? And who are these Sumerian language experts, anyway? :)

  12. The maze of linguists -- always fascinating. Good post. -- barbara

  13. I think that sometimes words said can get us into trouble but then again, words misinterpreted can get us into trouble too. Maybe the language of the heart is the only true language.

  14. Thanks, Barbara, It does seem to be a maze sometimes. I love the idea of communicating through poetry and images. They seem more true somehow.

    Teri, The title of this poem says so much....

  15. Dear Teresa,
    Now this poem is one to memorize and say aloud and inward. To savor the images--whether they be of twelve goats or Egyptian cotton sheets or Minoan script. This poem takes us backwards and forwards in time and memory. It evokes a lyrical response from Rita whose language speaks loud and clear of Mystery. What a poem you've chosen to share with us today. Filled to bulging with the "telling" words that pin us to meaning.


  16. Hi Dee, As I mentioned previously, I re-read this and always come away with the love of a new image or idea. It's so simple yet speaks of layers of life through the ages. It makes everything so Now. The Great Mystery, the air I breathe. I loved Rita's response. I'm so glad this spoke to you, too. Sometimes, one word can say everything.

  17. And sometimes no words say everything and art is all that is needed, still these visions with words are wonderful to dream on, to revel in.

  18. Yes!Jack!Language as Question not Answer.

  19. Linda, so true. Sometimes, words are not only unnecessary, but get in the way. But, I do love a world with poetry, " dream on."

    Tony! He is risen! Yes, life as question not answer. I Love that. Thanks.

  20. Teresa: I like your petroglyph photo. There are Native American languages that have "died out" in the past. There are some linguists now working within some tribes to capture and preserve native languages. Remarkable people that work like that.

  21. Jack, Thank you. I read awhile back of that attempt to recover lost languages among native tribes. Indeed, a wonderful life work.

  22. Teresa, reading deeply into your pages teases me into change, and this piece from Gilbert serves as such a good example. My habit of mind has been to think that cultures and languages have no rights (of survival) as do people and species, and that I didn't find their passing something to mourn. No more. All are losses. Net losses.

  23. R.W. My header states: Exploring new ways of seeing, new ways of being, with an open mind and an open heart. So, I find it very heartening to read that my blog posts might help others do the same. Thank you, so much.

    It is reciprocal.

  24. Are you the Dosequis Man..."the most interesting man alive" in drag? You astonish me lady!

  25. Cletis, Life is endlessly fascinating. As far as the Dos Equis man goes, he makes my heart go pitty-pat. Any reports of me in drag are simply not true. ;)

    Thank you (thump-thump).

  26. I must have the right word at the right time in poetry and prose in whatever I read. I try my very best to follow my best-loved writers but can only ever come up a very poor second or third.

    On the other hand, I dislike too many words, spoken or written; words that mean nothing but gossip or chaff in the wind.

  27. Yes, the word that sings to me in that moment is always welcome.

    Chaff, I suppose, might be defined differently by different people, but I do not like and try hard to never participate in gossip.

    Thank you, Friko.