Tuesday, October 26, 2010

River of words

It’s fascinating how our language (at least the English language) is replete with references to the forces of nature and the natural world. The sun and moon, volcanoes and mountains, thunder and lightning, the seasons, the birds and the bees, trees and flowers and weeds, snakes and snails and puppy dog tails – all this and more have profound, usually metaphorical, significance for us.

‘Sun is shining, but it’s raining in my heart,’ – goes the song. Corny, and yet how much more evocative than to blandly state: It’s a sunny day but I’m feeling sad.

Our language is richer, as is our imagination, as a result of this mingling of nature with our own moods and feelings:

"I don’t want to go on being a root in the dark,/Insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,/Going on down, into the moist guts of the earth. . ."

Even while man conquered the wilderness and found shelter from it, he continued to use the language of the wilderness, and cities came to be called concrete jungles - as though somewhere deep down he was bitter about the beauty he had left and of the ugliness he had created.

Nowadays environmentalists weep for the damage we are inflicting on the earth. There may be something in what they say. But I think what is sadder is how much more artificial and ugly things are becoming for the sake of convenience. Nowadays the fragrance of flowers is bottled. Nowadays milk comes in tetra packs, peas come frozen, meat is tinned. We grow expensive plastic flowers in rooms lit by fluorescent lights. We wear synthetic fabrics. Children’s toys are made of plastic, not wood.

We’d be dead without progress and all the goodies it brings us. But perhaps we don’t have to go all the way and discard everything that is natural and more beautiful. If we do, perhaps a day will come when we have nothing but the words themselves rooted in nature.

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