When Psalm 137:4 (KJV) asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?,” it reminds us that both the need to tell stories of migration and the difficulties of doing so are very old problems. Human migration is, almost by definition, hard to recount. Its physical transience threatens to render memory, too, ephemeral. Those coerced into mobility may find their stories forbidden, while voluntary but illegal migrants have many motivations to be secretive, rendering their stories undocumented in both legal and imaginative registers. Of course, it is in the self-interest of perpetrators of coerced mobility to erase the evidence of their violence. The psalmist’s furious pledge that his “right hand [will] forget her cunning” and his “tongue [will] cleave to the roof of [his] mouth” if he forgets Jerusalem suggests the vast, uncomfortable energy necessary to keep oblivion at bay (Ps. 137:5, 6). Yet even as narratives...
How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?
charlotte sussman is professor of English at Duke University and author, most recently, of Peopling the World: Representing Human Mobility from Milton to Malthus (2020). From 2017 to 2020 she was a convener of Duke’s Representing Migration Humanities Lab.
Charlotte Sussman; How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?. English Language Notes 1 October 2020; 58 (2): 187–189. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00138282-8721688
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