Anales de Tepoztlán

When a Language Dies

Miguel León Portilla

Divine things,
the stars, sun and moon;
Human things,
thinking, feeling,
No longer are reflected
In that mirror.

When a language dies,
Every thing there is in the world,
Seas and rivers,
Animals and plants,
Neither are thought nor pronounced
With sights and sounds
Which no longer exist.

Then for all the peoples of the world
A window closes,
A door,
A fleeting glance
In a different way
At things divine and things human,
At what it is to be, and be alive in the world.

When a language dies,
Its words of love,
Its sounds of sadness, of homesickness,
Perhaps old songs,
Stories, speeches, prayers,
None of those which were,
shall obtain a repetition.

When a language dies,
Then much has died,
And much can die.
Mirrors shattered forever,
The shadow of voices
Stilled forever.
Humanity becomes poor.

La jornada semanal, 7 de junio de 1998
Translation by Albert Wahrhaftig