Finding Your Right Languages To Write In

It sounds arrogant or strange, but I believe that the clarity of our expression can sometimes benefit if we become guests in another language and say in her what we have to say. We enter her, admire her portal and marvel at the subtleties that are new to our ears. As we proceed, we incorporate her metaphors, her rhythm, her character, and unwittingly her “way of being”.

We don’t need to give up our mother’s tongue, and we probably will always need her at least for some things we want to say. I use my native Dutch in most poetry and some attempts at novels, that are all published on the net. But there are other subjects and formats that demand a different language. Sometimes the reason is pragmatic (I write this in a kind of English so that more people can understand it) and sometimes aesthetic: Some languages just don’t have the rhythm I sometimes need to say something lucid, while others are very hard to sound austere.

A short example in an aphorism that we coin for this occasion.

“Don’t ever forget that all of your truths
are defined by those in power

…you might suggest, to eloquently express the relation between truth and power. We could make it rhyme, and turn it into something a bit more Shakespearean:

“‘t is true of your truths, large and small
that the powerful have construed them all

…or perhaps we try French:

“n’oubliez jamais, toutes tes verités
sont ce que les puissants ont ainsi baptisé

We leave other languages as an exercise. The “original” language of this aphorism might well be German (Nietzsche could have said this). The point is that some thoughts simply demand a certain language to be conceived. And even if we’re far from fluent in the use of that language, we aren’t bad guests if we experiment and try out her structures, her sounds, her way to relate to the world. During a visit to Sicily, many years ago, I couldn’t say what it was like in any other language than broken Italian:

“Sicilia, dove i nostri ricordi
si stendono con le colline al mare
dove nel pomeriggio non c’e niente da fare
e l’istante sta nell’aria quasi senza nuvole