Language and Love
The Language of Love is the title we've chosen for two concerts based on arias of Rossini and Handel that Ismena is giving in February. It is also an interesting idea to mull over. Meanwhile, for a concert in March, Darris Golinski and I are working on a words and music reflection exploring words themselves. Words and music exploring words. A strange idea. The moment of inspiration for the idea was a wonderful concert given by a Swedish string group called O/Modernt led by an equally wonderful violinist called Hugo Ticciati. For their encore, O/Modernt played 'Across the Universe', John Lennon's song that compares an outpouring of words to drops of rain falling into a paper cup. Except that in this rendition it was at first impossible to tell that we were about to hear the familiar song; the oscillating figure that accompanies the words 'endless rain into a paper cup' became an ethereal, high-voiced, multi-layered introduction to what was to come. Suddenly, the song took on something of the divine which would have pleased Lennon given his tribute to Guru Dev, the guru of his own mentor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (see below).
It turns out that Lennon wrote the song after an argument with his first wife, Cynthia. Apparently, the words really did flow onto the page effortlessly, and he subsequently felt that he had written a poem which could successfully stand alone without musical accompaniment.
But back to the language of love. I'm imagining the chronicled argument between Cynthia and John. I am seeing the displeased, possibly enraged Cynthia becoming increasingly eloquent. She drags out example after example to illustrate John's shortcomings, thinking, misguidedly, that she can somehow persuade him of his role as the offender, get him to see the light. Words are her weapons. They are her tools of clarification. They are her method of making actual her thoughts and feelings. If she can only find enough words, the right words, John will understand. Won't he?
I'm reminded of a couplet in Laura Marling's song 'New Romantic':
So we stayed up late one night to try and get our problems right But I couldn't get into his head just what was going through my mind
We've all been there, right? That sense of defeat when it turns out that all those words are fixing absolutely nothing. In fact, they seem to have meant something entirely different to the recipient.
John cannot hold the words any more than a paper cup can hold rain drops. They slither away.
It can be inferred that Cynthia's words were not terribly endearing. But even the words we use in moments of passion or of extreme tenderness... can they really express what we somehow are so driven to communicate? And would we want them to? Those moments are ephemeral, not to be fixed and words fix things down.
The word 'ineffable', a word that indicates the limited nature of language, has always seemed to me particularly beautiful. How to describe the moment of alertness and delight when the sun suddenly edges the clouds with a pink light? How to describe the inward revery that may suddenly fall upon us when a passage in a book sparks recognition and poses unanswered questions? Or how to describe the bleakness that can take us unawares, seemingly without cause or explanation? Ordered words chosen to pinpoint recognisable objects, motions, ideas can't, but maybe words that make suggestions 'at a slant' (as Emily Dickinson would have it in her poem 'Tell all the truth but tell it slant') can. And maybe music can.
Of course there are times when we want to fix things down, to find 'le mot juste' and to experience that little stab of pleasure of getting it just right, of 2 and 2 really adding up to 4. But the thing with words is, they are metaphors, not the object, motion, idea but something that points to it, an indicator or signifier. And so your idea of table may be a little different than mine, just as your idea of red may be different from mine and we will never know. How on earth do we ever manage to come to any consensus over anything?
On the other hand, as signifiers, words can be redolent with meaning. Etymology is a discipline that, placing words under a magnifying glass, reveals shades and depths that have been lost or glossed over with the passage of time. The word language, for instance, (as etymonline.com informs me) dates back to the 12thc French word 'langage' meaning speech, words, oratory but also a tribe, nation or people and before that to the Latin 'lingua' meaning tongue. Of course we cannot make audible sounds with any detail of phonetics without our tongue. Nor can we feel connected to others if we we do not share a set of aural constructions known as language. And the Century Dictionary (1897) defines 'language' as: 'The whole body of uttered signs employed and understood by a given community as expressions of its thoughts; the aggregate of words, and of methods of their combination into sentences, used in a community for communication and record and for carrying on the processes of thought.' How beautiful! An investigation into a word, its history and its nuance becomes a philosophical study. Whether it helps us actually understand one another better is another question.
In Lennon's song he seems to give up on words and even thoughts and gives himself over to the ineffable. Whether his lyrics can really stand alone without the music he wrote for them, I am not so sure. Perhaps it is the combination of the two that best 'get into our heads what was in his mind' as Laura Marling would have it. See what you think.
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind, Possessing and caressing me. Jai guru deva om Nothing's gonna change my world,
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes, That call me on and on across the universe, Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they Tumble blindly as they make their way Across the universe Jai guru deva om Nothing's gonna change my world,
Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world