Wednesday 1 July 2015

A poem by the Swedish writer Kjell Espmark (b.1930)

When a language dies

When a language dies
the dead die a second time.
The keen-edged word that turned the soil
in moistly gleaming furrows,
the chipped word with steaming coffee,
the shiny, slightly flaky word
that for an instant reflected
the window and the restive elm out there,
the secretly scented word
that the hand felt its way towards in the dark
amid shy reassurances:
these words which gave the dead a life
beyond life
and the living a share of a larger memory
have just been scraped out of history.

So many shadows that are dispersed!
Without a name in which to dwell
they are forced into a final exile.

The sign on the overgrown station
has a name 54 letters long
that no one will ever pronounce again.
That is something one can put up with.
If only all those
who have died a second time
hadn’t taken with them the soil’s roughness,
the green from the foliage, the coolness from the stream.
The foot can suddenly go right through the field.
And no one knows what the wind wants of us
or why we once came here.
To be sure we can hear the birds in the tree
but what has become of their song?

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