Ode to the English Language

Craftsmen ought to cut,
Not hack,
And love the language of their fathers.

Be at home in the strains of lullaby,
The tongue their mothers sung,
Burnt in their hearts
Before the dawn of understanding.

I cannot hide my love for you:
Your mystic Celtic sounds,
Your Irish, Welsh, and Scottish edges,
The clean clear randy tang of your common visceral verse.

I feel the Nordic, Saxon strains and sinews
That hold your Latin rump and Greek ethers in their places.

Than you I want no other stone
In which to carve and grave a poem.

Soft to form,
Yet rough and hard
Coarse like a Norseman’s beard and face
Resisting wind and rhyme.

Warm in the cold,
You are an Icelandic dog:
Faithful, affectionate,
Yet vicious in a fight,
Untameable to all but family.

You are an island tongue.
Your boundaries are not the shore,
But the sea.
Like waves they roll,
Multiplied words—
So many borrowed words.
You are a jackdaw
And you have filled your nest with stolen treasures.

You are a merry leather shod forester made precise and practical.
Your coarse outer grains smoothed and sheened,
Polished bright with a Greco-Roman cloth,
And then highlighted in Angle tones,
Then roughed again by the fell Saxon roar
With its latent ordered mightiness.

I love you,
My language, English.

You are the mixing and mating of tongues,
A living river never resting,
Held within its banks by ancient mysteries.

I hear the lost words, too.
Naked Picts and woolly Bretons,
Whose Ghosts, long gone,
Glow below the sunlit surfaces.
Deep down in the dark,
As hidden rocks they still alter the flow.
Their chants and sounds and meanings line
Your riverbed and channel ways of time,
Of dream and near consciousness.

I hear them all in you and love you more.

You are a green and blue silvered salmon full of roe,
Each an orange translucent sack of new universes.

I see now.
You began your quest in the cold trickle
Of a single satin stream born in the Island of the Mighty.

How many nations have you sown,
Birthed and begotten with your sounds
As you left your island home,
And circled Earth in Ocean’s river?

If you,
If all tongues were to swim against the tides,
Go back to Ocean, Occean, Oceanus, Okeanos…..
Go all the way back
Beyond the edge of Garsecg’s shoreless sea,
We would find a man and a woman
Walking with you in the cool of the day.
And hear your voice in the wind say,
In the only language:
‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…’

Elliott Tepper 2002