We are one. Part of one continuous cycle of life, we are actors and witnesses to the cycle of life. Simon J. Ortiz’s poem “Speaking” is the voice of that eternal cycle, of life constantly being enacted and at the same time being witnessed. There are no boundaries to nature, to self, and to life itself. Even decay and death are parts of this cycle, for it is in an ending does the beginning begin. The poem’s imagery, first of which entails visual imagery, “I take him outside /under the trees / have him stand on the ground,” (1-3) enforces this participation and of witnessing of life.
The speaker is an active participation in this ritual of witnessing; he has brought himself and his son to this circle. He has stood underneath the trees, an image of being sheltered by natures, resting and comforted in the shades of nature’s own unmoving giants. An aural imagery of sounds, of night and after rains may have fallen: “We listen to the crickets /cicadas, million years old sound. /Ants come by us” (4-6). It is the sound of the earth after it has refreshed itself or of late afternoons when the burdens of the day are almost done, and the hours of rest are soon to come.
Moreover, the fifth line reinforces the image of timelessness, of a sound echoing in both the past and the present and further into the future. Cicadas burrow themselves for years until they bring themselves back into the light and propagate themselves. This is nature without boundaries, no place or time to limit itself. This is life arising for death. This imagery is further reinforced by the poet’s use of alliteration throughout the poem, among others “speaking, small laughter” (16) and “Tree leaves tremble” (18).
Alliteration used throughout the poem is repetition of sound not only for the beauty of sound and language but for the imagery of repetition, of cycle, loving forward and unending. Yet, as the listener in turn becomes the speaker in lines 7-10, the cycle is now turning. Like the spiral ascending, moving upwards bringing change, the ones being listened to are now the audience. The speaker in the poem is now speaking, but not entirely on his behalf, but on behalf of his infant son – the future. Thus, the earnest tone of the poem and of the seriousness by which the speaker sees himself in this circle of life is set.
He speaks not only for himself but for the generations of the past as the small son he holds in his arm, set on the ground as if being taught to start becoming a man, is speaking for both the past and the future: “Tree leaves tremble / They listen to this boy / speaking for me” (18-20). Thus, the cycle has completed itself; now, everything listens to the boy, not to his words but to his existence. How ironic and wonderful it is that the world, or rather, nature will now listen to a mere boy and what his existence has to say.
In some ways, it contains a bit of profundity and mysterious beauty behind its words, considering that Ortiz wrote such a short and simple poem. In conclusion, the poem merely tells a reader one thing: Nature is a witness; the trees of shade and shelter are now in awe of this Man, the Speaker, and the Actor. Who then, must one day fall silent and listen to the covering earth?
Works Cited Ortiz, Simon J. (1993). “Speaking”. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet E. Gardner, Beverly Lawn, Jack Ridl and Peter Schakel. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. please insert page number.