Archive for the Arts Category

Words Tell IT All

Posted in Arts, Bird of Time, Culture, Education, Humor, nuance, nuance, Philosophy, poets, poets, The Arts, words on July 20, 2014 by bird of time

England. The English. English. A tiny island stuck on Winston Churchill’s back.

It shouldn’t be odd to me that the scrappy Churchill with his wonderful words should be the savior of this scrappy England. What a great pair, a great icon.

I’m a poet, a writer and I love words.It doesn’t matter what they say; it’s what they are. It’s the secrets they hold.The treasures they reveal. My high school English teacher, Jane Pavey later Stephans, gave me one of  my greatest gifts when she told us to look at the root of our words. Each word is a history book. Each word can tell stories of long boats and horned helmets, of the good ship Bounty (or not so good). and even ragtime and Beatles. It can tell if the old village was Saxon or Norman, tell its age by knowing that. It can sing and boast and weep:

“And Crispin Chrispian shall ne’er go by
But we in it shall be remembered
From this day to the ending of the world,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;”
(Shakespeare, of course. Henry V)

We band of brothers. It isn’t quite what Shakespeare meant, but the tiny island is a brotherhood of men created by the Phoenicians, by old Greek gods, Caesar, the Picts and Franks and Saxons. They, like the Happy Few have left their mark on the language and the people.  England and English itself – a happy brand of brothers. A kinship of words.

They say the language is so difficult to learn because of all the nuances, because the same word can have entirely different meanings like junk, ship, and junk, trash. There are all those ghosts in the language. But It has a wealth of expression that is perhaps unmatched.

Even the sounds of the words are like a picnic in the United Nations. Harsh sounds, or soft, sometimes lilting sounds.  Good Night. I’d guess that is German from the gutteral sound of it. Actually, the dictionary said Anglo Saxon, Germanic, of course.  gòd niht. The German is Gute Nacht. I don’t know for sure as I don’t often hear them, but I think I hear a softer gutteral sound in Polish and the Balkan states.  In England I love to listen to the accents and try to figure out where in England they are from. Some of it sounds a bit like a foreign language.

The soft, gliding sounds: sibilant, a Latin hiss. That delights me: a Latin hiss. What a picture! In spite of how much I like English I think Italian is the most musical of all the languages – it rolls and spits and kisses and even laughs. If I had to give up English I’d go dancing in that wonderful Italian  barrel of grapes marked for the finest wines.

And then there is the meaning, the nuance that makes a Shakespeare, a Browning or an Emily Dickenson. Look at the sloop, a barge, a clipper and, of all things a junk. England, the land of The Navy. Almost all of English  history can be seen in its ships. The most beautiful,  the heart-stopping clipper ship: clip – race fast, Old Norse – who better with those wonderful long boats? What a vision.  Junk, the ugliest of the ship words (not helped by its twin, junk for trash.)  It is still the most romantic:  Malay – adjong. You never hear it any more, I suppose it is not PC, but when I was young every concert singer sang On The Road to Mandalay, where the flying fishes play. Where the dawn comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the bay.  Strangely, the beautiful song came from a definitely un-PC poem by Kipling.

Everyone jokes about reading the dictionary as the most boring pastime in the world. But I love the words, I love to see where they are from, what they can tell me what is new or remind me of the old, the romantic. They are the tag lines of history. I think if there were a University of Words, we’d have a very educated, civilized society.