Word magic
The speech of trees

The songful dimension of language

Nattadon morning, 1

From Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram:

"Human language, for us moderns, has swung in on itself, turning its back on the beings around us. Language is a human property, suitable only for communication with other persons. We talk to people; we do not speak to the ground underfoot. We've largely forgotten the incantatory and invocational use of speech as a way of bringing ourselves into deeper rapport with the beings around us, or of calling the living land into resonance with us. It is a power we still brush up against whenever we use our words to bless and to curse, or to charm someone we're drawn to. But we wield such eloquence only to sway other people, and so we miss the greater magnetism, the gravitational power that lies within such speech. The beaver gliding across the pond, the fungus gripping a thick trunk, a boulder shattered by its tumble down a cliff or the rain splashing upon those granite fragments -- we talk about such beings, the weather and the weathered stones, but we do not talk to them.

"Entranced by the denotative power of words to define, to order, to represent the things around us, we've overlooked the songful dimension of language so obvious to our oral [storytelling] ancestors. We've lost our ear for the music of language -- for the rhythmic, melodic layer of speech by which earthly things overhear us."

Nattadon morning, 2

Nattadon morning, 3


Perhaps it's about remembering how to sit quietly and just listen for awhile so we can relearn the songlines from the land....

Oh, yes.

Speaking the Common Tongue

When I was small I could speak Tree.
I could speak Ant and Wasp,
converse with climbing roses,
and the pigeon on the windowsill.
I listened to the verbs
of cranky worms after rain,
enjoyed the caroling of vines,
the hymns of clover praising the sun.
Central Park was a United Nations
of foreign tongues I made my own.
There was nowhere I was not a citizen
taking part in palaver.
But each day, each week, each year
I climbed into my majority,
I lost a paragraph, a sentence,
a word of my natural speech.
Now I look at the world
and see only dumb creatures
when I myself am the one
who has gone silent.

©2012 Jane Yolen All rights reserved

Heavens, you've captured it.

When I sat on a beach with an abandoned elephant seal waiting for the rescue group to come, I talked to him the whole time. I wanted to hug him, but since I couldn't do that, I talked.

I do talk to the trees and sky and animals and birds, all the time, ALL the time. I tell them they are beautiful, greet them, reassure them that I am a friend. And I think I am heard and understood and connected by these utterances and whispers. It is a gratitude/heart-opening practice for me!

David Abram is no slouch at "incantatory," a term overused by book reviewers by wholly appropriate in regard to Becoming Animal.

BUT wholly appropriate, I meant.

"...Now I look at the world and .. I myself am the one who has gone silent." This weekend I was given the gift of re-telling a story, myth that connects the often maligned rat with the stars --Makali'i, the Pleiades through his conversation and his ability to hear wind, cloud and moon language. In the telling my silent self was re-connected. If one makes time to ask, the bridge of connection is given.

I was wondering while reading "Becoming Animal" - and am still wondering if a shift in language is due. I realize that I (we - and many of our fringe community) represent a fraction of the population, but I wanted to shout sometimes - wait, wait, we ARE REMEMBERING!! In fact, Abrams himself is testimony to this. I find myself using the same language when speaking about how we have forgotten, but that in itself is a sign that something is shifting, that we recognize, even, that there is something we have forgotten and are remebering - a kind of reclaiming.

I'm not completely informed here, because I never got to finish "Becoming Animal" and am curious if this is touched on, but wanted to share my musings.

Balm for a frazzled spirit today...ahhhh the things that really matter to me are here...always grateful...pat to Tilly

I so agree with Mo, we do need to relearn the songlines of the earth, sea and air. The late Russell Hoban referred to them as the World songs (Soonchild).
What we have is the gift of witness, using our tongues to sing for those who cannot hear. Jane's poetry, Mo's Feather's and drawings, Terri's painting, through music, dance and finally the written word.

We need to sing the songlines back to the fore.

thank you ~

Lovely - so true.

Jane, I think this is a persona but not you. Your writing reveals an understanding and
reliance on the music and magic of life.

One of my mottos is: "Listen, listen..." This topic reminds me of a treasured book, Kenneth Bower's
"A Song For Satawal." I have it here on my desk, and I think I will read it again. It is about the Yap island people in the Pacific (well named) islands about reviving the way "to pilot miles of ocean by relying only on chants..."

Oh YES, that is it. Jane, you have said it all right there.

I have, just a few minutes ago, finally finished "The Spell of the the Sensuous"! It has taken me a long time, mostly because it is not a book you can just skim through in a few days...it needs to be digested slowly, pondered upon. But oh, so much yes yes yes oh yes in it. When I'd just started it, I scribbled some notes inside the front cover. I was thinking of writing a blog post about it, now it seems it is certainly the right time to do so. Thank you again, Terri, for your uncanny ability to post exactly the right thing at the right time to touch us and nourish us.

I'm so glad. That seems like the right thing to do.

Do you also know Jay Griffiths' book "Wild: An Elemental Journey"? I have it on my shelf right next to David Abram's.

"What we have is the gift of witnes, using our tongues to sing for those you cannot here."

I love that, and agree. We can also -- as writers, artists, teachers, family & community members -- use our voice on behalf of those who don't speak in human voices.

That's another one for my "must read" list!


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