Here’s one of the most famous poems of the Futurist Russian Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922). In  ‘Incantation by Laughter’, Khlebnikov breaks down the Russian word for laughter, ‘smekh’, and then devises a comical set of new words around it. His translator, Paul Schmidt, captures his ingenious strategy of building “permutations of the word ‘laugh’ into a weird scenario of prehistoric chortles”. The words themselves seem to be laughing and exclaiming at the sound of their own formation, their strangely gleeful repetitions.

Edward Hirsch, Poet’s Choice, p. 92.

Incantation By Laughter begins:

Hlahla! Uthlofan, lauflings!

Hlahla! Uthlofan, lauflings!

Who lawghen with lafe, who hlaehen lewchly,

Hlahla! Uthlofan hlouly!

Hlahla! Hloufish lauflings lafe uf beloght lauchalorum!!

Your homework is to learn it off by heart.

Image: http://public-domain.zorger.com/a-book-of-nonsense

7 thoughts on “Hlahla!

    1. I love these poems that go well beyond, or right round, word-for-word sense. Les Murray has a marvellous one in the voice of a pig that starts “us all on sore cement was we”

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