“"...till by the end you feel you have lived many lives: which is perhaps the greatest gift a novel can give."”
Ursula K. Le Guin

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Another Poem-like Thing (a long time coming)
Sun 2008-02-10 22:07:29 (in context)

When I was much younger and I read Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time for the very first time, several points in the novel stuck with me hard. One of them was the period of time during which the main character, Meg, convalesced in the care of an alien species who were blind. They had long delicate fingers, they talked to the stars and each other via telepathy, and they had no eyes. At one point, Meg complained of the darkness on the planet--I think it must have been too far from the sun to have a proper day, although how it stayed warm enough for life I forget. (Note to self: Reread the Time Trilogy sometime soon.) Anyway, she complained that it was dark.

"What is dark?" said her caretaker.

"It's when there's no light."

"What is light?"

"Well, it's what allows you to see."

"But what do you mean, see?"

Meg couldn't answer. How do you explain vision, light, color, to someone without eyes? I wonder whether there is a similar disconnect between most of us humans who can see and those who are blind from birth--only, humans who have never experienced vision do nevertheless live among people who do, and speak languages with many vision-based metaphors ("Let me see" for let me think about it; "Look it up" for research it; "True colors" for true nature; "Vamos a ver"/"We'll see" for vamos a descubrir/we'll find out; etc). They have at least been vicariously exposed to the experience. Without even those metaphors surrounding them in daily speech, how can a species of sightless sentient beings comprehend what vision is like to a human? Are there any words we could use that would convey the concept?

How would another sort of animal with seven senses explain to us six-sensed humans their additional mode of perceiving the world? How would they describe an eighth color?

it is how those without voice speak to you
it's how you know they're there

now believe me when I tell you
that there are different degrees of thereness
we call them colors

how do you imagine a tree?

when you touch the bark
it snags on your skin
it leaves tears of sap
(how the pine-blood smells? we call that amber)

when it is in full leaf
it causes a cool place beneath its
well-clad branches
(that coolness is known as green)

it is so tall, its topmost branches
you can never touch
and when the wind hasn't yet arrived
you cannot hear the leaves whisper
and when the winter's overstayed its welcome
the branches give no shade

you ask me how I know they are there
their thereness is thin
and gray

I don't think my answer would have satisfied Aunt Beast either.