The process of learning a foreign language has a number of stages. Each stage seems exciting, new and impossible to overcome. Yet somehow after we internalize the knowledge, a new stage presents itself in due time. I learned the letters and the most basic constructs of the English language in school, but I was not serious about it until my last couple of years in high school. In hindsight, the stages seem to have been:
- Basic letters and some basic words
- Understanding sentence construction
- Learning present, past, future tenses
- Learning more words toward a stronger vocabulary
- Reading and comprehension of books, articles, web sites
- Understanding basic, then clear speech (radio broadcasts, for example)
- Understanding regular speech, slang, accents, and expressions
- Where to use “a” vs. “the” (still sometimes not easy)
- Understanding songs and jokes
- Understanding poetry
I must confess that after seventeen years of learning this language, I still do not understand poetry. I understand most of the words in the poems but do not feel connected to the author or the message in the poem. This is not because I don’t like poetry or don’t understand any poetry. Poetry in Armenian is like a soothing melody for the soul. Similar to a fine solo piano piece packed with emotions, feelings, and messages, poetry brings to us in few words that which could be said in volumes.
It is possible that Armenian poetry is so special because of my Armenian heritage and culture. I say this because while I understand poetry in Russian, it does not seem to bring forward as many thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I would not be so arrogant to ever consider that perhaps there’s some special element in Armenian poetry because I have heard others state similar thoughts about English poetry.
Why bring up the subject of poetry in these economic times and times of political change? Because like all art, poetry can help us recharge, reenergize and appreciate that which we always have and that which we still need to discover.