Great poetry not only sustains the temporary hearts and minds of old poets and poetry lovers, it also prolongs indefinitely the span of some marvellous words that might otherwise have ‘slipped down out of the minds of men’. An archaic or obsolescent or rare word well used in a valued poem is remembered as part of the language for as long as the poem is read; rather like some shining insect preserved in amber, but with the happy difference that the word may still live, saved from extinction. Half a dozen examples, capitalizing the ambered words:
From Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:
Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon
EFTSOONS his hand dropt he.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a SWOUND!
From Robert Burns:
For the sake of AULD LANG SYNE
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft AGLEY
From Macaulay’s ‘Horatius’:
Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the Nine Gods he swore
That the great house of Tarquin
Should suffer wrong no more.
By the Nine Gods he swore it,
And named a TRYSTING day,
The first verse of the late Judith Wright’s wonderful poem ‘Bullocky’:
Beside his heavy-shouldered team,
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran WIDDERSHINS in his brain:
What are some other examples of great words that may owe their preservation to great poems?
Post Edited (04-09-04 10:47)
Who would have ever heard of a mandrake root, except for Donne:
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
Serves to advance an honest mind.
[ ... ]
I have seen several pictures and artists' representations of mandrake roots, but I wonder what image was in John's mind when he wrote it.
But seriously: I think we can also credit Shakespeare with keeping words such as BODKIN and PETARD in the minds of people who don't work with bodkins and petards.
Mandrakes....Genesis 30:14-16. One of my sources describes it as looking like lettuce, another says it resembles rhubarb.
Odds bodkins! Like anyone really knows what a bodkin was. I have heard 'God's daggers', but both that and needles are unconvincing. Also, God's little body (bodikins), but ...
You know what a bodkin is if you sew enough to need to distinguish type of needle, e.g. sharps, crewels, bodkins, for dressmaking, embroidery and tapework.
The important thing about mandrake is the root, it looks a little like a human (think oddly shaped carrots) and so was believed to be alive and angry at being uprooted.
And would we remember moidores without Masefield's 'Cargoes'?
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores
(not to mention the fabulous quinquireme)
Post Edited (04-01-04 05:02)
Warning: TERRIBLY SNOBBISH REMARK FOLLOWS!
How lovely that NOT ONE OF YOU mentioned the appearance of MANDRAKE ROOTS (looking just like nasty little baby humans) in HARRY POTTER!
I think I get an indulgence for this one because I have nephews ages 7 and 9, so I gett Pottered whether I want to or not.
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
And this from anon 16th century, preserving that unlikely old English term of endearment - piggesnie:
She is so proper and so pure,
Full steadfast, stable and demure,
There is none such, ye may be sure,
As my sweet sweeting.
When I behold my sweeting sweet,
Her face, her hands, her minion feet,
They seem to me there's none so meet
As my sweet sweeting.
In all this world, as thinketh me,
Is none so pleasant to my eye,
That I am so glad so oft to see
As my sweet sweeting.
Above all other praise must I
And love my pretty piggesnie,
For none I find so womanly
As my sweet sweeting.
If it isn't some English regional dialect for a cute little piglet, I wonder whether it comes from 'pige' [pron. 'peer'] the Danish for a young girl. The old city of York was mostly built by the Vikings.
Post Edited (04-01-04 05:29)
Its not in SOD, how about OED?
Don't have the OED, but Century [www.global-language.com] says to see 'pigsney', which yields 'in a pig's eye', used to denote something especially cherished (not exactly what it means today), first found in Chaucer, Miller's Tale 1. 82.
Okay, hold everything. PIGGESNIE is a real word? In that case, I invite you all to revisit the lyrics to I AM THE WALRUS.
There's a word in it that sounds to me like SNY (rhyme with SLY), but when I see the lyrics written out it's usually one of these ways:
Expert textpert choking smokers don't you thing
The joker laughs at you? Ha ha ha!
See how they smile, like pigs in a sty
See how they [snied OR snide]
... and now I think they're both wrong. Now I think it's SNIE, just like it sounds.
Marian NYC, I think the ultimate authority on what John Lennon intended would be the liner notes. Any of our readers have a Magical Mystery Tour album with lyrics?
I have them at home. Will check and report.
My guess is that it is John using the word snide as a verb with THIS meaning:
3 : slyly disparaging
Found a description of the plant at last.
From British Herbs by Florence Ranson, Penguin, 1949.
"In rare cases the true Mandrake (Mandragora officinalis) is to be found, with its twisted swollen roots and lurid reputation. For centuries it was cultivated for its sedative properties, but seems to have died out about the sixteenth century. Gerard says 'It groweth in Hot regions, we have them only planted in gardens, and are not elsewhere to be found in England.' A very persistent legend was that when pulled from the ground, it uttered a loud shriek, and whoever heard it collapsed. So dogs were tied to the plants to pull out the roots - and 'th3e dog it was that died'. Though seldom grown now, a description of it may be interesting. Like others of the family Solanaceae, it is biennial, with long, glossy green leaves in a rosette the first year, growing on the ground, followed by tall shoots, on which hang dark purple flowers, and later on yellow, shiny fruits. One of its many names was 'Satan's Apples', for the fruit is highly poisonous.
During Queen Elizabeth's reign, with the importation of many foreign plants, came the American Mandrake (Podyphyllum peltatum), which has proved so valuable that it is now included in every pharmacopoeia in the world. White Bryony (Bryonia dioica) is often called the English Mandrake by Herbalists."
So now we know.
I forgot to look. Will try to rememer over the weekend. I have a really good excuse, though! I had forgotten to turn ON my answering machine at home, and that's where I leave myself reminders of stuff to do.
And then there is the lovely passage in Song of Solomon 7:11-13:
Come, my beloved,
let us go forth into the fields,
and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards,
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.
The mandrakes give forth fragrance,
and over our doors are all choice fruits,
new as well as old,
which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
Who would have heard of vair, without Cristina Rossetti’s ‘A Birthday’:
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
or of samite, without Tennyson’s ‘Morte D’Arthur’:
So flash'd and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
Post Edited (04-09-04 10:44)
Also give STC credit for sinuous rills and dulcimer, cedarn and chaffy. Sure, athwart, too:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
In the MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR liner notes, the lyrics are:
"... see how they snied."
I still can't guess whether that's connected to "piggesnie."
(Sorry I was so long about posting this. I have a very good excuse--spent three whole days helping a friend bury his mother, and it's taking a long time to shake off the stress and the contact-grief. That sounds a bit dramatic, but really: I am still feeling only half here.)
Do any of us sit on tuffets any more? And I bet you Miss Muffet would have been eating yogurt.
Tennyson's Ulysses has us drinking life to the lees (dregs; bottom of the glass), an obscure one, assuming he is not toasting the family of Robert E.:
IT little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees ...
Lees, still an active word for home wine makers. But it does imply he hadn't racked or filtered it.
That's the trouble with some of these words, some people still use them.
Post Edited (04-14-04 15:33)