iceland

Poem: The Icelandic Language

In this language, no industrial revolution;
no pasteurized milk; no oxygen, no telephone;
only sheep, fish, horses, water falling.
The middle class can hardly speak it.

In this language, no flush toilet; you stumble
through dark and rain with a handful of rags.
The door groans; the old smell comes
up from under the earth to meet you.

But this language believes in ghosts;
chairs rock by themselves under the lamp; horses
neigh inside an empty gully, nothing
at the bottom but moonlight and black rocks.

The woman with marble hands whispers
this language to you in your sleep; faces
come to the window and sing rhymes; old ladies
wind long hair, hum, tat, fold jam inside pancakes.

In this language, you can’t chit-chat
holding a highball in your hand, can’t
even be polite. Once the sentence starts its course,
all your grief and failure come clear at last.

Old inflections move from case to case,
gender to gender, softening consonants, darkening
vowels, till they sound like the sea moving
icebergs back and forth in its mouth.

Bill Holm
Indexing:

Posts from This Journal by “poetry” Tag

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  • Poem: Lachrimae Amantis

    What is there in my heart that you should sue so fiercely for its love? What kind of care brings you as though a stranger to my door through the long…

One of my disappointments (in retrospect) of my visit to Iceland was that the only languages we heard in any quantity were German and English. One of our tourguides talked a little about the creation of new words to avoid English loanwords--and how some stick and some don't because they're such mouthfuls.
I love this.

The linguistic relativity theory has pretty much been debunked by now, which is too bad, because I just love the idea of the way we speak affecting how we think and act. That the language can speak about ghosts means that the people believe in ghosts, etc. Such a lovely idea.

(I was also reminded very strongly that, in Spanish, we say "the thing was forgotten," never "I forgot the thing," which is a neat linguistic evasion of responsibility.)
It's one of the things I find fascinating about etymology and reading things written a century or two (or many) ago--there's such a different cadence and vocabulary to things, you can get a sense of the change in culture just from how their prose is constructed.

I just love the idea of the way we speak affecting how we think and act. That the language can speak about ghosts means that the people believe in ghosts, etc. Such a lovely idea.

It's something that would be fun to explore in a magical-realism story, although the logistics of it would be a little tricky to pin down. (Reminds me of my brother-in-law's speech about how certain colors--orange, maybe purple--don't actually exist. We only think they exist because we have words for them.)
there's such a different cadence and vocabulary to things, you can get a sense of the change in culture just from how their prose is constructed. - YES. And *that* reminds me of one of my own favorite poems, here. "Nuances of address not known in our egalitarian language..." It's that drawing-room romance again, killing me.

Language forming reality is how some fantasy magical systems work--that the authorship of an idea creates the idea concretely, that knowing the "true name" of something gives one power over it, that speaking a dream gives the dream form, et cetera. Speak the Word, and a world is born. (Probably so many stories are told that way because the people who tell the stories are storytellers--a recursive kind of "the author is God" mindset. Which also leads directly to SPN's Metatron and God's disguise as Chuck Shurley.)

Personally, this is also why I like a version of magic where intent is more important than form. If a witch *believes* that Latin is the language of spells, then her spells will work--but perhaps her thoughts have been shaped by the history of language, so that the only spells she believes will work are in Latin because Latin tells her so. It's a tricky sort of recursive idea. Yet, if she can step outside of herself, she would realize that it's not the language creating the power--she is the one creating the power, so in theory she could use her native tongue, and the spell would work the same way. (Or, more powerfully, she might not need to use words at all--thought transmuting instantly into action without needing the middle-man of language.) In a magical-realism story where Language is King, that ability to evade the boxes that language would keep you in would make the most powerful character of all.

Edited at 2016-09-13 08:37 pm (UTC)
In a magical-realism story where Language is King, that ability to evade the boxes that language would keep you in would make the most powerful character of all.


Oh--you learn a language because it allows you to do certain kinds of things. Magical power becomes tied to the number of languages you know, or how well you know a language. Choices of vocabulary become vital. Resurrecting an archaic word may give you the edge in battle.
Right? What an interesting way to go about it that would be. The linguistic equivalent of Sam&Dean being able to do a seance using a Spongebob placemat rather than an altar cloth--because the feeling and meaning are correct, even if the literal form isn't.

There's a Harry Potter fic called "The Mirror of Maybe" that had an excellent premise similar to this (though the execution was... poor--to say the least). There, the author introduced the concept of a "mage" into the HP world. Wizards use wands and language. As we see, elves use something else entirely--as do goblins, as do centaurs, etc. A mage is someone who can understand another culture so well that they can use the magic of the other culture--it's not just a matter of learning the right wand movement or saying the right word, but truly understanding the thought processes behind the other culture's magic. It was really interesting.

Supernatural, on the other hand, seems to use mostly ingredient-based magic. Blood + hemlock + whatever + magic words = spell. Not to hate on the show, but that's so... facile. On the other hand, Rowena tells us that there are also "natural" talents--if we believe her, where does that innate power come from? She articulates her own power with Latin, but that wasn't necessarily the case at first--a little Scottish girl wouldn't know enough Latin to manage, other than what she might remember from church (if her family were Papists.) So, the magic must come from within, and be interpreted via the Roman/Latin tradition. But... what if she could also learn voodoo? What if there's Norse or Japanese or Ethiopian magic? What if you could combine their power, somehow?

Now I want the British Men of Letters to be ruthlessly collecting world magic from all the civilizations they conquered.
Now I want the British Men of Letters to be ruthlessly collecting world magic from all the civilizations they conquered.

Given some of the stuff Olivette says in "Paint it Black", I'm pretty sure this is canon, even if show never gets around to exploring it.

Thinking about innate power vs. borrowed vs. taught--maybe it's a little like perfect pitch vs. auto-tuning vs. relative pitch. So, perfect pitch, it's almost entirely within the singer's head. They have their own little mental tuning fork, and so can usually find the pitch without needing an external reference--but if they're doing a really complex piece with lots of weird harmonics going on, they will probably still need to check every now and then, or may need to go through a specific "tuning" routine to calibrate themselves. So that would be like Rowena and the witches from "Shut up, Dr. Phil". They can do a lot of stuff simply through will, and perhaps minimal gestures/phrases to get things aimed and focused corrected. More complex stuff still requires spellwork, because it's so delicate/finicky.

Auto-tuning is entirely machine-managed, and can make anyone, no matter how off-key they are, sound pitch-perfect. And also a little soulless and weird, but no skill is needed on the part of the singer. So that would be the equivalent of demon-dealing, or borrowed power.

Relative pitch, the singer needs an external reference to work off of, and will need to check much more frequently that they're still in tune. The less practiced they are, the more support they'll need--similar to Sam and Dean (or "taught" magic). The ingredients and chants and the rest of it is sort of like the instrumental accompaniment that's making sure they're singing the correct notes. But the better they know the piece, or the more skilled they become, the more sketchy the accompaniment can also become--because they need less and less to keep them in tune.


...Does that make any sort of sense, or am I just blowing smoke rings?
That makes piles and piles of sense, so if it is smoke it's like smoke rings blown by Gandalf. If we go with that explanation: power is power, but most people need a focusing element in order to access it and control it. Hence the need for "magic words" and voodoo fetishes and magical reagents--and wands/hex bags/etc.

The purest form of non-assisted magic we see in SPN seems to be that wielded by angels: they don't need accessories and chanting, they just *are* powerful and can translate that power directly into action in the world (Zachariah's instant degradation of Sam's body [so much that he has stomach cancer] comes to mind). God/Chuck gave them a taste of his ability to alter reality--but humans can do it, too. What that implies to me is that Chuck created a world that *is* magical. It's not like the world of Harry Potter where some people have the power and some don't; it's much more egalitarian, and it's just that your *level* of access to the magic is variable.

Perhaps magic comes from the soul, if we take the example of seasons 6/9/11. An angel's grace is the purest form, but humans can draw upon their version of "the Light" (e.g. a portion of God) in order to access and perform magic. This explains why demons can still do magic (their souls are polluted, but they're still essentially functioning). It also implies that soulless people can't do magic--and presumably monsters & Leviathan can't, either, since they're sent to purgatory rather than heaven or hell (the domain of souled things). Hm. I like this. The capital-L Light equals magic.

...But what does this tell us about Amara?
It also implies that soulless people can't do magic--and presumably monsters & Leviathan can't, either, since they're sent to purgatory rather than heaven or hell (the domain of souled things).

...I can't think of any instances to contradict this--although one of the joys of having so much canon to take into account is that nagging suspicion that you're forgetting something. :P But the few occasions I can think of monster/magic interaction, there's something/someone acting as a conduit or whatever--Dean carrying Benny's soul, the Amazons having a contract with a god, etc. (Here's a question: where do the pagan gods slot into the power hierarchy? Somewhere between the more powerful witches and archangels?)

...But what does this tell us about Amara?

I really need to rewatch the end of s11, but I'm pretty sure the only time we see her create something is in the resurrection of Mary--which is restoring something created by her brother. Every other demonstration of her power involves consumption/destruction.

Which doesn't really answer your question, but is as far as my brain can go tonight.
Which is sort of tangential to what you're saying, but--wow. That would be a very different kind of world than the one we live in.