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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

To express the inexpressible

Posted Tuesday, December 6, 2011, at 5:46 PM

Writers have often remarked on the inability of language to convey the truth and beauty of the human experience. Wanting to express the inexpressible, they know they fall far short of that goal, but they seem to make progress and hope that one day they will be successful.

English is a vast coalescence of German, Spanish, French and other tongues, inviting an over-the-ears immersion into its intoxicating rhythms and musicality. For example, the opening of "Kubla Khan" by Coleridge: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree, where Alph the sacred river ran through caverns measureless to man down to the sunless sea." The progression of "d's" in "Xanadu," "did" and "dome decree" is finally resolved by "down," and the line is further strengthened by "measureless to man" and "sunless sea" with the blend of consonants and vowels enhancing the images and ideas.

Coleridge was a great poet because he came closer than most, but has anyone expressed the inexpressible? The nearest time may be with babytalk, expressing ourselves in nonsense sounds but saying just what we want and feeling we are perfectly understood. When we first start learning a language, we become aware of its inadequacy to let us say what we so easily said in that happy lingo of our own invention.

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James R. Campbell
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