Just A Set Of Signs?

This week a friend sent me this beautiful poem. If I were to receive a poem a week from a friend, well, life would be perfect…

From March '79
Tired of all who come with words, words but no language
I went to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The unwritten pages spread themselves out in all directions!
I come across the marks of roe-deer's hooves in the snow.
Language but no words.
Tomas Tranströmer
(Translated from the Swedish by John F. Deane. You can find the original, and hear it here.)


It’s got me thinking. We can use words, but not really be communicating. Sometimes I’ve been asked to read stories and memoirs, and found they are like that. There may be a set of signs on the page, but they have left me unmoved, and with only a vague sense of the characters and world they are describing.

Conversely, language is not always a set of signs that we can use verbally. It can also be something more subtle- a rhythm, a felt sense, an atmosphere. Communication is the key. The important questions are: How do want to affect our reader? And, how can we convey the essence of the world/person/thing that we are describing? This thought process has led me into the work of Jeanette Winterson. She writes, in Art Objects,

‘The artist is a translator; one who has learnt how to pass into her own language the languages gathered from stones, from birds, from dreams, from the body, from the material world, from the invisible world, from sex, from death, from love. A different language is a different reality; what is the language, the world, of stones? What is the language, the world, of birds? Of atoms? Of microbes of colours? Of air?

So we go on learning our craft, trying to make something meaningful of these black marks on the page.


The Weekly Writing Prompt

‘Words but no language…language but no words’.

Write a non-fiction or fiction piece, in prose or poetry, using this line as inspiration.

If you’d like to publish it as guest post on the Wild Words Facebook page, I'd be delighted. 

This blog was first published on April 5th 2013.