Losing a Language Explication

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W.S. Merwin immediately sets a tone for “Losing a Language” in the title, hinting at the lament-like characteristic of the poem. In fact, the title is not supposed to be a metaphor or even contain a hidden meaning that the reader must deduce by reading on. The poem is exactly what the title suggests: language and words, and thus communication, has been lost. Merwin creates a nostalgic and sad tone to emphasize the loss and quickly establishes the direction of the poem using simple diction. He carries this simple language, along with the mournful tone, into the rest of the work and does not stray from the subject. This allows the central idea, the loss of language, to not only persist throughout the piece but to become the dominant thought in each line.

The speaker starts with “A breath leaves the sentences and does not come back.” This breath is an example of the words that people speak and the same words that the speaker will mourn over. Strangely, we are not given any information about the breath, even though it becomes the subject of the poem. It was simply mentioned in the very beginning and is now gone, and all we know is that it used to exist. This sets up the nostalgia that resonates in each line. Also, when something is lost, there is a chance that it may be found again, but the speaker lets readers know that it will not come back, creating a sense of loss and its finality. The choice to use “breath” is not insignificant. A single breath is light, delicate, unnoticeable, and vanishes quickly. The speaker may wish to convey the fragility of communication.

The first two lines essentially introduce the main conflicts that are present until the end of the poem. The speaker continues using words that illustrate irrevocability. In the second and third couplets, “no longer” shows up twice, and later readers see the word “nothing,” all of which adds to the idea that the words that were once known are absolutely gone. In addition, the speaker maintains the...
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