Wednesday, March 30, 2011



The sense of taste is subtle and complex. The tongue is the organ of taste and also the organ of speech. Taste is one of the casualties in our modern world. Since we are under such pressure and stress, we have so little time to taste the food we eat. An old friend of mine often says that food is love. At a meal in her house one has to take time and bring patience and mindfulness to the meal.

We have no longer any sense of the decorum appropriate to eating. We have lost the sense of ritual, presence and intimacy of the meal; we no longer sit down to meals in the old way. One of the most famous qualities of the Celtic people was hospitality. The stranger always received a meal. This courtesy was observed before any other business was undertaken. When you celebrate a meal you also taste flavours of which you are normally unaware. Much modern food lacks taste completely; even while it is growing, it is forced with artificial fertilizer and sprayed with chemicals. Consequently, it has none of the taste of nature. The sense of taste has become severely dulled. The fast-food metaphor provides a deep clue to the poverty of sensibility and lack of taste in modern culture. This is also clearly mirrored in our use of language. The tongue, the organ of taste, is also the organ of speech. Many of the words we use are of the fast-food spiritual variety. These words are too thin to echo experience; they are too weak to bring the inner mystery of things to real expression. In our rapid and externalized world, language has become ghostlike, abbreviated to code and label. Words that would mirror the soul carry the loam of substance and the shadow of the divine.

The sense of silence and darkness behind the words in more ancient cultures, particularly in folk culture, is absent in the modern use of language. Language is full of acronyms; nowadays we are impatient of words which carry with them histories and associations. Rural people, and particularly people in the west of Ireland, have a great sense of language. There is a sense of phrasing that is poetic and alert. The force of the intuition and the spark of recognition slip swiftly into deft phrase. One of the factors that makes spoken English in Ireland so interesting is the colourful ghost of the Gaelic language behind it. This imbues the use of English with great colour, nuance and power. Yet the attempt to destroy Gaelic was one of the most destructive acts of violence of our colonization by England. Gaelic is such a poetic and powerful language, it carries the Irish memory. When you steal a people’s language, you leave their souls bewildered.

Poetry is the place where language in its silence is most beautifully articulated. Poetry is the language of silence.

If you look at a page of prose, it is crowded with words. If you look at a page of poetry, the slim word shapes are couched in the empty whiteness of the page. The page is a place of silence where the contour of the word is edged and the expression is heightened in an intimate way. It is interesting to look at you language and the words that you tend to use to see if you can hear a stillness or silence. One way to invigorate and renew your language is to expose your self to poetry. In poetry your language will find cleansing illumination and sensuous renewal.

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