Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Language Angels Speak


Salman Masalha


The Language Angels Speak

Presumably like all kids around the world, I was once asked an immortal question: What would you like to be when you grow up? Quite bizarre and abnormal in the circumstances and conditions I was born to, and unlike other children who have dreamed of becoming doctors, advocates, engineers etc., my answer always was: I want to be a poet. Those who might think in terms like self-achievement of a little child will soon find out that they were completely wrong. As it became clear to me later, being a poet is not a self-achievement in any way. After all it seems to me now a kind of punishment rather than a joyful experience. Nevertheless, the world of poetry is a kind of prison world in which residency is still worthy.

Poetry is a prison within the chaos of letters, signs, words, lines and all possibilities that language with its generosity provides for us. In this sense the role of a poet is comparable with the role of the First Creator who has set an order in the universe from within the wide and huge disorder. Poetry itself has no sense of time nor sense of place nor sense of nationality. In its very essence poetry holds all times, inhabits all places, experience all lives and talks to all nations at once. The language of poetry is the language of human experience despite color, sex and tongues. It is a meta-language that goes beyond the tongues scattered from Babel in the four directions of the wind. The language of poetry is the first sense of divine creation and the first spark of eternity. Furthermore, poetry is the tool with which poets compete with the work that was done by God. It competes with God for it tries to reshape His unfinished clumsy work. Optimists might say, He did not finish the job for reasons of unknown divine generosity, with the aim of leaving some space for the taste of living to the Earthly people. Pessimists, on the other hand, and surely they include poets and others who belong to different disciplines of the arts, will say: He didn’t do His work properly as it should be done.

In the beginning there were words in chaos, and darkness covered the cell of the primal prison. In a moment of will, the poet emerged from the darkness and collected all signs and letters and put them on paper. He picked up some of them and set them in the order: L. I. G. H. T. Then all off a sudden there was light. With this light he could see all words of all languages in their chaos. And that was the first day. That was the first poem.

With this light the real poet can see all meanings that potentially exist in languages. He can form the word of love and let others love their way. He can reshape the smell of existence and give some hope to the increasing miserable ones on Earth. He can speak out about death and beyond similes and metaphors aims to show the hidden meaning of life. With its few lines, poetry enables us to communicate with other peoples and reveal other cultures. It enables us to make wings of words and fly into other spheres and stop in other lands for language is the one and only promised homeland for a poet. Now, that time has passed and I am not a naive kid anymore, I have figured out another thing: Poetry is a supreme inner-net, a supreme maze that never lets you reach any end. Within this eternal maze the poet will exist until the Day of Judgment, when he is supposed to present his provocative alternative work in front of the first sole reader whom he competed with initially and all the way long. If the world was created and was put in focus by the light of poetry in on first day, no doubt this light will last until the end of days. Now, I have nothing but another wish: I wish I could live then in order to watch that last fight, that last light.

Finally, despite a Muslim tradition in which we are told that the inhabitants of the Garden of Eden speak the Arabic language, and despite the fact that it is the language angels speak, I can testify, from personal experience, that Arabic is the tongue in Hell as well.

***

For the Arabic text, press here.



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