This page contains poetry, both complete as well as excerpts. This is a very subjective list of poems about language, both in a general sense and in specific languages. The goal is to provide a repository of inspirational poems having to do with the art and beauty of language as a phenomenon in all its forms. Enjoy!


is hi-ly infectious

the world ova
catch it
from parence
by word of mouth

the yung
r specially vulnerable
so care
shud b taken how langwij
is spread

symptoms include acute
& the equally serious ga-ga

if NE child
is infected with langwij
give em
3 Tspoons of txt
b4 bedtime
& 1/2 a tablet of verse
after every meal
~ Normal Silver, Age, Sex, Location. (Quoted in txtng: the gr8 db8 by David Crystal (Oxford University Press, 2008))


Language shadows your face
Like a charming hat
Like shoes over hot pavement

Language precedes and follows
Your movements, creeping
Over every landscape

Harboring the sun
You jingle it like keys
In your pocket, choosing

One word that will fit
The lock of his ear
The lock of his mouth

Words travel like water
And tumble like rocks
The words you say

The words you cannot

~ Cathryn Hankla. Last Exposures: A Sequence of Poems. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004)

"Shepherd's Song"

Read these few sentences as if I were
some stranger, some other
language, which I may still be
(though I speak with your words, make use
of your words);
which I was, speaking
your language,
standing behind you and listening
in your tongue
my tune.
Read as if you were to listen,
not to understand.

~ Piotr Sommer. Continued. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005)
(Poems translated from the original Polish by Halina Janod & others)

The wind of saying

The words dance in the wind of saying.
They are leaves that crispen,
sere, turning to dust. As long
as that language runs its blood-

rich river through the tongues
of people, as long as grand
mothers weave the warp and woof
of old stories with bright new

words carpeting the air
into dreams, then the words
live like good bacteria
within our guts, feeding us.

We catch the letters and trap
them in books, pearlescent butterflies
pinned down. We fasten the letters
with nails to the white pages.

Most words dry finally to husks
even though dead languages
whisper, blown sand through
the dim corridors of library stacks.

Languages wither, languages
are arrested and die in prison,
stories are chopped off at the roots
like weeds, lullabies spill

on the floor and dry up.
Conquerors force their words
into the minds of their victims.
Our natural language is a scream.

Our natural language is a cry
rattling in the night. But tongues
are how we touch, how we reach,
how we teach, the spine of words.

~ Piercy, Marge. The Crooked Inheritance. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)

Tonight, a vessel catapults through the heavens with a gold-plated phonograph fixed to its side. In less than forty
thousand years this craft will drift through the nearest system, bearing
greetings in fifty-seven languages, including the encoded song of the humpback
whale. By then our tongue will have crossed into extinction or changed utterly.

~ Srikanth Reddy. An excerpt from "Corruption (II)", Facts for Visitors. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004)

"Foreign Wife Elegy"
My language has its own world
where he doesn? know how to live,
but he should learn my language;
then he can call my mother to say
that I am dead. I drive too fast
and someone else drives too fast
and we crash on the icy road.
The death sweeps me away.
He can tell this to my mother
if he learns my language.
Her large yellow voice travels
and hits his body, but at least she knows
that I am dead, and if I die,
I want him to tell my mother
with his deep voice shaking.

~ Taniguchi Yuko. Foreign Wife Elegy. (Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2004)

The Way is like language. The more you use it,
the more it responds, becomes resilient, pliable,
lithe, liquid, smooth, supple, available, eager.

Go ahead, do anything you want to it. You can't
hurt it. It is far more powerful than you are.
It's there to serve and dominate you all at once.

Surrender to it and it will be your servant.
It is your tool, your toy, your master.

~ Budbill, David. While We've Still Got Feet. (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2005)

"What is a Poem?"
Such slight changes in air pressure,
tongue and palate,
and the differences in teeth.
Transparent words.
Why do I want to say ochre,
or what is green-yellow?
The sisters of those leaves on the ground
still lisp on the branches.
Why do I want to imitate them?

Having come this far
with a handful of alphabet,
I am forced,
with these few blocks,
to invent the universe.
~ Ruth Stone. In the Dark. (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2004)

"Speaking of Evolution: Luminosity"

For aren't we all the children
of the children of great-grandfathers
who called down lightning, who sought out
the tree struck and smoldering, who minded
the punk log day and night as if it
were alive? We are each of us the progeny
of grandmothers who guarded burning
rocks held in seashells, who cradled
coals in clay cups through windy mountain
journeys; the sons and daughters
of mothers who blew sparks on twisted
moss wicks floating in bowls of oil;
the family of those who peeled
bark strips from trailside trees,
twined and lit the funnels to burn
as torches on rainy night treks.
We are kin to the kin of fathers
who spun wood against wood until
the smoky heat ignited fine-thread
tinder of cedar hairs, charred
corn tassels, who fanned and coddled
and spoke to the warm light coming.

The old structures of these ritual
passions, kept deep in the genes,
in the heart -- like precious scripts
preserved in the rock cellars of hidden
monasteries -- these are eternal. They breathe,
alive in the seed of every coming child,
each tiny embryo skeleton bound
and forming to fit forever the bones
and powers of all past solicitors of light.
And during any cold, frightful time
when something of vision is missing,
these talents will appear, rising,
seeming of a sudden resurrected --
the way inert soil opened to the sun seems
of a sudden to flower -- the kindling,
the watchful nursing, the urging forth
of that first slight savior of flame,
as if, in truth, the earth had never
been absolved without such religion.

~ Pattiann Rogers. Firekeeper: Selected Poems. (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2005)
(Conlanging Librarian Note: I realize this poem has little to do with language, but I really like the imagery of our ancestors and how they have handed down our culture.)