Daily Archives: May 27, 2004

A Tendency to Madness

There is a touch of madness in my blood;
but not a malady of harmful need,
more like grasping out for things that last
despite all proof that just illusion stays.

My German, Swiss and Irish stock is sound –
at least, they learned self-medicating ways
to lose the swirling doubts that trap the mind
and seek to mire the soul in endless strife.

But in the French and English strains there is
no safety net to guard against the world
that grinning wildly reaches out to fool
the willing mark that wanders the arcade.

It feeds upon the silence between words,
a shadow hidden far from prying eyes;
and yet, I feel its presence in those times –
its desperate ambition to survive.

It consumes slowly, sucking at the bones
that frame both solid world and healthy dreams
leaving a fragile and de-marrowed shell
which crumbles without warning into dust.

I fight against this great insanity
that lingered in the minds of my forebears
and turned once thoughtful paragons of wit
to sad, bent husks of life welcoming death.

Perhaps the gene is watered down enough
that it may find no purchase in my fate;
or finding others in my line to chase
that prove less argumentative, elect

to spare my later years this sapping curse.
It also may be that my madness lies
on other tangents, stronger than this thing;
The Celts have demons, too, that must be fed.

27 MAY 2004

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Late May at Twilight

The night is late arriving yet again;
and in the day that lingers past its time
it casts tentative shadows, brushed in hues
of lavender and faded rose and blue,

while twilight, holding back its unsure breath
as if it means to swell and burst its seams,
drops only hints its patience has an end
and seems shy and unwilling to intrude

upon the sun’s last monologue, intoned
in barely whispered wisps of light.
It lets the final words slip out, then fade,
as finally, the dark blue curtain falls.

Against this backdrop, gentle mauve and pink,
the distant stars appear like bits of thread;
there is a quiet rustle in the trees,
and suddenly, the cool of evening comes.

27 MAY 2004

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My Mother Tongue vs. My Grandmother’s Tongue

After having spent a number of days contemplating the connection between the Vedic and Celtic stream beds, via Indo-European language, and receiving a number of illuminating comments to my queries posted at several Celtic culture sites, I now find myself struggling upon the horns of a different, but related, dilemma.

The bottom line is this. I am a writer in English. That is the language in which my fluency and mastery can be expressed. Like Yeats, I question whether it is possible to achieve a true “literary mastery” of more than one language in a single lifetime, exceptions like Vladimir Nabokov notwithstanding. You see, learning another language at a rudimentary level is not enough — my desire is not to pass myself as a native speaker for the purposes of travel, or even to enjoy works in their native tongues — these obstacles can be relatively easily overcome with a modicum of study. The issue for me is to become fluent enough to write in another language. And in order for that to occur, I need to consider that in order to read a lot of what I’ve written in English, the reader must be pretty fluent in English. Otherwise, much of the nuance, the plays with language, the subtlely of innuendo and colloquialism, are likely to be overlooked, or even lost.

On my mother’s side, English is for the most part the lingua franca. As second-generation naturalized Irish, I can only assume that any Irish language proficiency was diluted by the time of our arrival on these shores, primarily due to the British efforts before and during the time of naturalization to replace Irish with English, even to the extent of banning the use of Irish. But on my father’s side, I need not go back that far to find non-English speakers, at least through my father’s matrilineage. My grandmother spoke Plattdeusch (Low German, or Pennsylvania Dutch if you will) during her childhood, and was forced to learn English in American schools as a child. My father learned this language in order to speak with his grandparents, who had naturalized from Bern, Switzerland and spoke no English. As a result, I have less trouble recognizing German words (albeit not High German) than many other languages. I also tend to get at least the Low German accent right. On the German-German (opposed to Swiss-German) side, my grandfather had no German. His family had been in the United States since 1741, fought in the American Revolution and so on, and was for all intents and purposes completely Americanized.

So the result is that English is my Mother Tongue. It is the basis for my understanding of the world. While certainly I have an affinity for a number of foreign expressions and modes of understanding based on my study of those languages (Latin, Spanish, Irish, Sanskrit, German) or my exposure to them (Plattdeusch, Hawaiian, Creole) I will remain only a “literary speaker” of English. Sad that this is true, it seems to me. Perhaps that is too self-limiting.

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