Word Play

Reading a lot of poetry reminds me how much fun language is.

Words get a bad rap sometimes: unable to express the ineffable, “apple” never quite getting at the crispness and juiciness of the real thing, inconsistent and illogical spellings—at least in English.

On the other hand, just consider how entertaining a thesaurus can be. I recently looked up the adjective “visionary,” and the synonyms ranged from “astral” to “noble.” I got a kick out of inserting some of the synonyms into my sentence: “His astral leadership moved the university in a completely new direction.” I bet it did.

I love how some words can’t be translated, like “douce” in French, which means soft, but also sweet and gentle at the same time. It means both the light after sunset on a perfect day and the way it feels at that moment, and we don’t have a word for that in English.

I love that the structure of a language reflects the way a culture thinks. You really can’t say, “When the rain began falling, Jane had been planning to go to the grocery store” in Chinese because the Chinese don’t see the point of obsessing about time in quite the same way Americans do.

I love that, aside from using it to tell jokes, language can be the joke: A mushroom walks into a bar. The bartender says, “We don’t serve mushrooms here.” The mushroom says, “Why not? I’m a fungi.”

And I love that words can be hung together so beautifully, with such poise and precision, that they can make us weep.

Like most things human, language won’t get us all the way to wherever we’re going, but it’s a wonderful companion along the way.

In keeping with the National Poetry Month theme, here’s one I’m sure the poet enjoyed writing. It is a little less straightforward than the others I’ve posted this month, but just skip the parts you don’t understand and dance with cummings through the rest of it.


i thank You God for most this amazing…
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)


Warning: There are a couple of poems I’d like to share that I didn’t get posted, so National Poetry Month may extend slightly into May.

One thought on “Word Play

  1. Thank you again!

    I wouldn’t have understood the 3rd verse 30 years ago, and I’m just starting to get it now. : )

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