One useful lesson of the tale of Babel Is that no language spoken today can boast Of being the language Adam employed in Eden When naming the animals as they passed In a peaceable line before him. One less reason for any nation to claim Priority over all the others.
Too bad the tale also suggests that the many Languages now available weren’t intended To delight us with their variety, just to disrupt Work on the tower that men were raising Floor by floor to the gates of heaven.
No mention is made in the story Of how the exhausted soil of a hard-used language Can be fertilized by imports from overseas, Borrowings we needn’t return Like shampoo and yoghurt, paradise and pajamas. No mention of how delighted we feel When others borrow from us, without asking, The likes of rubbernecking, roustabout, and raccoon.
The wish to learn how borrowed words are pronounced By native speakers has prompted many To learn a language, to savor the sound Of cumin, coriander, and cardamom As they might be chanted in a poem on local spices Or cried in an open market in Isfahan.
If the truth has been broken up among many languages, Each word may contribute its own rare gift: The word for silence, for instance, on a South-Sea archipelago That denotes the quiet that allows you to hear The waves lapping against a slip on a balmy evening.
And a word from a distant mainland for the silence That falls in a garden when the leaves stop rustling And the birds stop chirping, as if preparing For something they haven’t heard before.