Tuesday, September 11, 2007,10:26 PM
Creativity and Language
You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
Your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

Copyright © 1978 by Margaret Atwood.

I love that poem - the simplicity that hints at the vast complexity of language and knowledge. Teaching words to a child - naming the world and defining the boundaries. At this stage it feels like I am restricting Emma's world. This word, this symbol, is this. Eye, hand, rain. The words are the thing itself. We struggle through this, this naming of things.

Emma - What happened to the mouse?
Me - The mice?
Emma - No, mouse.
Me - When there are more than one, they are called mice.
Emma - No, that's not nice. Mouse.

Mice and Nice. We're working on that one. The naming continues. Words are what she knows and there is power in words. I define the world for her, answer her "what is it?" question with a name - the right answer. Abstract words are harder. She knows saying please is associated with getting what she wants, but hasn't quite realized that it isn't a magical spell one casts that always results good things. She orders her world with the phrases she knows. She's heard Dora when getting on a boat say "lifejackets - so we can be safe" enough times that as she played with her Noah's Ark toy recently each animal had to put on a lifejacket before entering the ark. Words define, they set boundaries, they are secure.

But I see her from time to time breaking free of the constraints of language I have set for her. She is discovering the power to create with language - to be involved in her own process of naming. Tonight the space under the table became the realm of Puddleduck where the caped hero Gobbleguck attempted to escape from lions, tigers, dinosaurs and the mommy tickle monster. The world is not flat in reality, language does define and constrain, but there is still the power to create. Perhaps with just these nine colors we can create infinite shades.

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posted by Julie at 10:26 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/12/2007 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Pink Shoes

    That's a really lovely post -- I'd forgotten about that Atwood poem, and found myself riveted reading it. Your reflections about your daughter are delightful.