All the airy words we summon.

Following on the theme of language, I’m re-posting this poem from Dana Gioia. As my situation is different from seven years ago when I first put it up here, so is my response to the poem. Then, I was often with my late husband, and we would tell each other the names of things, and amplify our knowledge and appreciation of the world together. Or, we would simply be together in silence, in those moments of happy existence in the world that does not need words.

Nowadays, I still have the impulse to tell all these things, or attempt to bring my readers into the wordless experiences I have — by means of words! Of course, I can’t even attempt to describe more than a fraction of the moments, the stones and sunlight and shadows. So I am learning — a little — to just sit with the things, “no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.” There is Someone with me, after all, who doesn’t tell me the names of things, but Who is the Reality from which they came into being. He also needs no praise, so we praise Him always.


The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other –
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper –
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always –
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

— Dana Gioia


3 thoughts on “All the airy words we summon.

  1. This is such a beautiful poem! I want to read it over and over again. I recently went to visit a rock wall that a man built in honor of his Native American ancestor, so this poem has special meaning at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was touched as much by your words about your husband as by the poem. At my age I can’t help often thinking about a day that might come someday if my husband was not here for us to “tell” each other things, important things and silly things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just assigned this poem to my literature class on our first day of reading poetry together. There is an excerpt from Whitman’s journals in our Nature anthology on just this idea – whether we know something better/love it more if we know its name. He feels this same conflict – we don’t need to know the name of a rose to know it is lovely, but how much more we appreciate it when we know its provenance and name. We don’t need poetry, but how much it helps us to enjoy life more by helping us name our emotions, impressions, narratives, songs, sorrows, and desires

    Liked by 1 person

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