Sometimes A Sound Simply Seems – The Language of the Birds & How Sounds Impose Meanings in Writing

If you think about it for a moment, you will probably realize that the words that humans have codified to convey meaning are clumsy. Yet, that is the construct of writing. We form letters together, and we expect our readers to take a leap of faith and to connect them to some greater understanding. For instance, we might expect the letters “a-p-p-l-e” to, by some magic, make us feel all tart, crunchy, juicy, and red inside. Yet, by merely spelling the word “apple,” a writer is telling his readers very little. A writer must add a bit of polish to the letters and hopefully, the letters can begin to mean. Music has an ability to communicate emotions and understandings that lie deep within our soul, and I believe that we are more directly impacted by music than we are by words.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

I believe that music, for humans, is like the language of the birds.


During the medieval period, people believed that in their singing, birds had a more direct means of communicating than that of words.

The Tao says that feeling cannot be conveyed verbally and that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes. In other words, the ancient Asians recognized that there is a vein of emotion within us that defies being conveyed through words.

In Ancient Greece, music was believed to have an almost magical power of communication:

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

While our words and our sentences and even our paragraphs are often impotent in trying to express, nonsensical words juxtaposed together can be very effective. In some instances, sounds made by strings of words become a kind of music that, in an almost indescribable way, speaks to the soul:

“A bouquet of clumsy words: you know that place between sleep and awake where you’re still dreaming but it’s slowly slipping? I wish we could feel like that more often. I also wish I could click my fingers three times and be transported to anywhere I like. I wish that people didn’t always say ‘just wondering’ when you both know there was a real reason behind them asking. And I wish I could get lost in the stars.
Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door, let’s go.” ― E.E. Cummings

In the above poem, E.E. Cummings has juxtaposed some phrases that should not mean anything at all, but they do. Because of the way that he pulls his words together, the E.E. Cummings’ phrases assume a musicality that speaks on its own merit.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo

Little Napoleon: Jacki Kellum watercolor Painting – SOLD

Wallace Stevens wrote a poem that should be even more ridiculous to the reader, but somehow it isn’t:

Bantams in Pine Woods
by Wallace Stevens

Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!

Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackamoor to bear your blazing tail.

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.

You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,

Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.


From the first time that I read the above poem, I liked it–I even felt that I understood it, but my understanding was not something literal. Rather, the sounds in Stevens’ poem are notched together like pearls on a string and somehow together they mean–in a subliminal way, the words mean.
Nature communicates with me in a similar way.

“I find peace where the sun kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda

I believe that there are musical notes and sounds that feel right to us and that there are elements of nature that feel right in a similar way. I further believe that all of us have within ourselves a need for order–a need for those indescribable things that are simply just right, and I ultimately believe that when we deviate from that elemental rightnesss, we begin to suffer or to long for its return. That is when clumsy sounds can connect to each other and can speak to us in a subliminal way, and that is when nonsensical phrases mean.

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