Friday, March 2, 2012

Grave Accent

The grave accent is a diacritical mark used in Breton, Calalan, Corsican, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Mohawk, Norwegian, Occitan, Portuguese, Ligurian, Scottish Gaelic, Vietnamese, Welsh, Romansh, and other languages. Until very recently I misunderstood what this term actually meant.

there’s the meaning we believe
the real meaning known to everyone else
and we’ve no idea they’re separate things

I was certain that term
grave accent
meant the reverent tone
reserved for graveside services
our dignified whispers
saved only for the grieving and the dead

But no, it’s a linguistic thing
a diacritical mark taught in the academe
and known from Corsica to Wales

First used by the ancient Greeks
it marks a lower pitch to accentuate
the higher pitch that follows

On this mournful day
I hear grieving Tuscans
gently intone

he died
with virtue
and was carried here

I was wrong
I didn’t know
but in my providential world
where graveside visits are rare
and higher pitches follow
my tone would have been
just right