Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
Forgotten Language by Shel Silverstein
Readers can feel how sad and regretful the speaker is because of his repetition of words and phrases. The word “once,” which is repeated throughout the poem, is usually used in fairytales and can be thus associated with childhood and happy endings; however, that is not the case in this poem. The speaker has lost something beautiful and can never get it back. He can never have his happily ever after. The speaker asks “How did it go?” twice, but of to no use. There is no reply or answer, no explanation. The silence that follows is an answer in itself: what has happened has happened and cannot be changed, it can only be accepted. The repetition of the word “once” can also be a reflection of how much of a routine his life is today. As he is all grown up now, he has lived long enough to see what the world really is; nothing is new to him anymore.
Despite how old or experienced the speaker is, he does not use fancy words or a strict rhyme and meter to show off his maturity and old age. By using simple words he attempts to be young again, when life was simple and free from the superfluous and excess. He also creates a slight rhyme by ending line 2 with “said” and line 5 with “bed,” and later on by using “snow” in line 9 and “go” in the last two lines of the poem. Rhymes are associated with playfulness, so here the readers see again his efforts to be a child. The speaker, like any other adult, is trying to return to the time when life was uncomplicated.
People always want what they do not have; when people age, they try and try to be young again. Physically, beauty products are available to magically erase wrinkles and all signs of aging. Emotionally and mentally, however, there is nothing in this world that can bring people back to the days when they understood flowers, talked to animals and objects, and cried because of snowflakes. The beauty and life that people find in the smallest things are lost when they grow up and are exposed to the harsh realities of life. Innocence is not borrowed by the real world – innocence is taken and kept forever. The experiences of a person cannot be erased from the human mind because they create the person and define the way he thinks, speaks, and acts.
As gloomy as this all sounds, there is, however, hope. Although adults cannot be as innocent as children, they can see the same world when they are happy or in love. When adults see what children see, are childlike but are not childish, they reach a high level of maturity and understanding. These grown ups overcome the problems and corruptions of the world by finding the beauty in the darkest and ugliest things. Love and happiness can open the eyes of people to the beauty of life, and the forgotten language can be remembered.