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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 57 ers and readers is a pleasure that feeds all who participate. It deepens our cultures. But human language lives first in the shaped breath of utterance. It laughs and stutters on the tongue long before it lies down on the page, and longer still before it arrays itself in rows across the glowing screen. Oral language gusts through us, our sounded phrases borne by the same air that nourishes the cedars and swells the cumu- lus clouds. Laid out and immobilized on the flat surface, our words tend to forget that they are sustained by this windswept world; they begin to imagine that their pri- mary task is to provide a representation of the world (as though they were outside of, and not really a part of this world). Nonetheless the power of language remains, first and foremost, a way of sing- ing oneself into contact with others and with the cosmos, a way of bridging the silence between oneself and another per- son, or a startled black bear, or the crescent moon soaring like a billowed sail above the roof. Whether sounded on the tongue, printed on the page, or shimmering on the screen, language’s primary gift is not to represent the world around us, but to call ourselves into the vital presence of that world—and into deep and attentive pres- ence with one another. This primary magic of language, this ancient and ancestral poesis, underlies and supports all the other roles that language has come to have. Whether we wield our words to court a lover, to explain how some gadget works, or to analyze the data regard- ing a rapidly destabilizing climate, not one of these roles would be possible without the primordial power of speech to make our bodies resonate with one another and with the other rhythms that surround us. The bugling of elk every autumn does this, as do the echoed honks of geese vee-ing south for the winter. This melodic, often rhythmic layer of meaning—the stratum of spontaneous, bodily expression which oral cultures steadily deploy, and which literate civilization all too easily forgets— PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS