The author, smiling winningly Scott Raymond home

The Birth of Language

24 May 2001

We’ve been talking a bit about the nature of language on the Swim Team discussion boards. Which reminds me of a poem.

How near his sire’s careering fires
Must Mercury the planet run;
What wave of heat must lave and beat
That shining suburb of the Sun

Whose burning flings supernal things
Like spindrift from his stormy crown;
He throws and shakes in rosy flakes
Intelligible virtues down,

And landing there, the candent air
A transformation on them brings,
Makes each a god of speech with rod
Enwreathed and sandals fledged with wings.

Due west (the Sun’s behest so runs)
They seek the wood where flames are trees;
In crimson shade their limbs are laid
Besides the pure quicksilver seas,

Where thick with notes of liquid throats
The forest melody leaps and runs
Till night lets robe the lightless globe
With darkness and with distant suns.

Awake they spring and shake the wing;
And on the trees whose trunks are flames
They find like fruit (with rind and root
And fronds of fire) their proper names.

They taste. They burn with haste. They churn
With upright plumes the sky’s abyss;
Far, far below, the arbours glow
Where once they felt Mercurial bliss.

They ache and freeze through vacant seas
Of night. Their nimbleness and youth
Turns lean and frore; their meaning more,
Their being less. Fact shrinks to truth.

They reach this Earth. There each has birth
Miraculous, a word made breath,
Lucid and small for use in all
Man’s daily needs; but dry like death.

So dim below these symbols show,
Bony and abstract every one.
Yet if true verse but lift the curse,
They feel in dreams their native Sun.

?C.S. Lewis