A Few Words On Voices
I think I said at the very beginning of this enterprise that, like all writers, I write for myself. As I said last time “poetry makes nothing happen/but steers the drunk and the nuisance/until he faces home at last.”
But once I publish something, it’s no longer mine. It belongs to everyone, and your interpretation of any of my poems are as good – or better – than mine.
Which brings me to the poem “Voices.” If any of you can figure out what I’m trying to get at with this poem, please send me a line. Seriously.
I’m not a philosophical poet, like T.S. Eliot, nor do I wish to be. I like to tell stories, and I don’t always do well with abstract, philosophical issues.
But there are – or seem to be – some serious philosophical issues at the edge of this fantasy story, and they have to do with language and the question of being.
Nouns are easy. They name things that we can see, touch and feel. If I write “dog,” one reader might imagine a retriever, another a beagle, but no one imagines a dragon. We’re all on the same page.
Verbs start off simply as well. If I write “the dog runs,” we can all see that. The dog is moving; he’s not a sleeping dog.
But things get tricky with the helping verbs: “be, being, been, am, is, are.” They connote states of being, which we aren’t so sure about.
When Moses faced the burning bush and was told to go and free the Israelites, he asked who he should say had sent him. God answered simply, “I am.”
Great for theatrical effect, but what does that really mean?
Centuries later His son would answer Pilate with the same “I am.”
What do we mean when we say “I am.” Do we really know?
In the poem, the boy, having learned the helping verbs, “becomes a monkey chattering in a tree,” and later, a dolphin who hears another dolphin call his name.
I don’t follow science very closely, but I have read that, if not monkeys, larger primates can actually learn language. Some scientists have claimed that gorillas understand the concept of death, which puts them one up on me on the conceptual scale.
But central to the poem is the dolphin who hears another dolphin call his name. Dolphins not only speak to one another, but they name one another. They are, and they know they are.
They have the same gift of speech that God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden, which means that they should be protected as we would protect ourselves.
The gift of speech can liberate us, but throughout history, it has enslaved us. The Irish were forced to abandon Irish for English; the peoples of the new world were forced to learn Spanish or English; and, of course, truly enslaved people in the United States were forced to learn the language of their masters.
The gift of speech is a double-edged sword.
So do the best you can.