Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cool Web of Language

The Cool Web
by Robert Graves
Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by,

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the roses's cruel scent,
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad, no doubt, and die that way.

Cogent commentaries on this poem are available now at

I'm guessing that Mr. Graves would agree with Mr. Sapir & Mr. Whorf in their theory that language
has an impact on thinking.

I would like to know whether sophisticated thought is possible at all without language.
I don't think it is. I don't see how it could be. Hm. What about chess? Maybe we could play it
just by logic, without using language. Or no, wait a minute. Logic can't happen without language.
Is that so? Hm.

Without language, we would still seek food to eat and water to drink, but would we still have
funeral ceremonies? Any rituals at all? I don't even know how to formulate a scientific
hypothesis because who doesn't have language? Dyslexics? Can we prove that dyslexics
don't have language? No. They speak and listen well enough to be understood.
And if we don't have any examples of people living without language then we can't investigate
a hypothesis about how anyone would behave without language. Interesting though that we
have examples of children who struggle to learn language at all if they don't learn it by age 8
or something like that. So that seems to me to be evidence that language acquisition is
socially mediated and not, as Chomsky would have us believe, inherently wired into our DNA
somehow. And we have case studies of children of deaf parents who sometimes struggle
to acquire language skills.

It's probably more complicated than what I'm trying to understand here but anyway
there's my two cents. Here is another site that addresses the issue of language and experience
and even knowledge assimilation.

Have a marvellous day full of every blessing!

-- "It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
River Junction Poets Mission Statement

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