Sunday, February 17, 2008

History of Languages

(my reinterpretation of the Tower of Babel story):

History of Languages

Before the Age of Misunderstanding,

The early people built a tower

They started with nouns:

Person--place--thing, held together with

Thick layers of verbs, question marks,

Colored bricks effusive

With figures of speech

“YOU” stuck to “HERE” with “ARE”

ORANGE” described “MUSIC” and “SUNRISE

Words begat sentences begat paragraphs, higher and higher

In the evening, lovers

Climbed to the top, dangled

Their feet in the clouds, breathless

Before the dizzying view

“I hope we never stop building,” he said,

“Who knows what we’ll create?”

The woman smeared his body with verbs

They sanctified each other

Worshipped the tower

And in the morning, everyone wondered

Who had laid more foundation


But God had witnessed the lovers

As they witnessed Creation

Praying to the paragraphs

On which they stood

Before God’s eyes, it became

Epidemic, people blessing the tower,

Its adjectives and songs,

Hallowing skyward metaphors

Until at last, God regretted,

It was time to teach people

To misinterpret

So when the man said “Please pass the adjective; will you marry me?”

His lover laughed at the string of useless sounds

“What do you mean?” she babbled

It was a brick no one could answer

People clamped their hands over their mouths

As brave new words grew inside, struggling to escape

Foundations shook

Mortar cracked

Language collapsed

The man and woman touched each other’s faces

Searching for words that were no longer there

At last, they decided it was better

Not to speak

And learned to communicate

Without sound

The early people went on to misinterpret

God’s words, they told each other

“We climbed too high, God

Has punished our pride

With confusion”

Some finally stopped talking to God

Certain that God, too,

Would misunderstand

But people have always struggled

With foundations, mortar, and God

Didn’t mind the human desire

To build higher towers

It was their belief in language

That God punished

Some words felt

Like marbles on her tongue

But they stuck to her lover’s teeth

Refusing to tumble to the floor

And some verbs tasted nostalgic

While certain questions set his mouth on fire

Still they were convinced that sounds

Meant the same thing in different mouths

That one language meant

One way of hearing

So the Tower of Babel collapsed

On its faulty foundations

And some people learned

To search for meaning in the din of sounds

While others still shout brick after brick

Trying, in vain, to be understood

(adva ahava, copyright 2008)

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