John Ross


When a language dies,
The divine things, stars, sun, moon,
The human things,
To think and to feel,
No longer are reflected
In this mirror.

When a language dies,
All that there is in this world,
Seas and rivers,
Animals and plants,
Do not think of them,
Do not pronounce their names,
Do not look for them,
They do not exist now.

Then the window and the door
Are closed up to all the peoples of the world,
No more will they be shown
A different way to name
The divine and human things
Which is what is means to be
And to live on the earth.

When a language dies
Its word of love,
Its intonations of pain and caring,
Perhaps the old songs,
The old stories, speeches, the prayers,
No one, no matter whom,
Will be able to repeat them again.

When a language dies,
Then many have died,
And many more will die soon,
Mirrors forever broken,
Shadows of voices
Forever silenced
Humanity grows poorer. (jr)

A Reprint from Zocalo (Fall 2003)
Translated from the Aztec by Miguel Leon Portillo,
English translation by John Ross

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