To write something down is only to testify that for somebody in some situation, it meant something worthy of notice. To publish it is an expression of faith that it might mean as much to somebody somewhere else. But can anyone tell how to read it?
What expresses itself in language, we cannot express by means of language.
What can be shown, cannot be said.
— Wittgenstein, Tractatus (4.121, 4.1212)
Dogen, in one of his Shobogenzo essays, tells the story of a Chinese poet who realized the intimate truth upon hearing the sounds of a valley stream flowing in the night. He wrote the following verse:
The sound of the valley stream is the Universal Tongue,
the colors of the mountains are all the Pure Body.
Another day how can I recite
the eighty-four thousand verses of last night?
— (tr. Cleary 1995, 116)
Who would presume to comment on this? I will close for today with a bit of Henry David Thoreau, from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers:
A good book is the plectrum with which our else silent lyres are struck. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to our own unwritten sequel to the written and comparatively lifeless body of the work. Of all books this sequel is the most indispensable part. It should be the author’s aim to say once and emphatically, “He said,” ἔφη. This is the most the book-maker can attain to. If he make his volume a mole whereon the waves of Silence may break, it is well.
It were vain for me to endeavor to interpret the Silence. She cannot be done into English. For six thousand years men have translated her with what fidelity belonged to each, and still she is little better than a sealed book. A man may run on confidently for a time, thinking he has her under his thumb, and shall one day exhaust her, but he too must at last be silent, and men remark only how brave a beginning he made; for when he at length dives into her, so vast is the disproportion of the told to the untold, that the former will seem but the bubble on the surface where he disappeared. Nevertheless, we will go on, like those Chinese cliff swallows, feathering our nests with the froth, which may one day be bread of life to such as dwell by the sea-shore.
(ed. Bode 1964, 226-7)