EPEOLATORS ALL.

Hugh MacDiarmid is one of my oldest poetic lodestones; he was one of the first poets I quoted at LH, back in 2002, and I did so again a couple of years ago, but those were both examples of his early short poems in Scots, the poems almost everyone prefers (“We enjoy your films! Particularly the early, funny ones”). Today I feel moved to quote from a couple of his later, longer, less immediately lovable poems in standard English mixed with quotes from all over. I’ll begin with his “In Memoriam James Joyce, from A Vision of World Language,” a very long poem with a difficult publishing history (he wrote to Eliot in 1941 “You will remember the huge poem of mine you read a year or thereby ago. It was to have been published by the Obelisk Press, Place Vendôme, Paris; but the Fall of France quashed that project”; Eliot loved it but said “in this time when we are really being starved for paper it is works like this which must suffer,” later calling it “a magnificent tribute to language”). It begins with a roll-call of those who have practiced epeolatry (OED: “The worship of words”):

We who are concerned with ‘the living whole
Of all the poetry that has ever been written,’
And the sodaliciis adstricti consortiis
Of all the authors who have been, are, or will be,
We remember Jacint Verdaguer whose Atlàntida and Canigó
Did for Catalonia what Mistral’s Mirèio did for Provence,
And the Italian, Marco Girolamo Vida,
Who duly figured in Chalmers’ collection of British Poets
(Trust the English to appropriate all they can !)
[...]
Rolfe with his tyrianthine style, diaphotick verse,
Orchidaceous vocabulary, and his archellenisms,
Argute, deaurate, investite, lucktifick, excandescence,
Galbanate, effrenate, dicaculous, pavonine, torose,
Hybristick, gingilism — Rolfe whose mantelpiece held
A card inscribed Verro precipitevolissimevolmente,
Hardy with words like lewth, leazes, dumble-dores,
Spuds, cit, wanzing [...]

Doughty, by far the greatest of them all,
Infinite in his awareness and charity, [...]
Making language at once more rich and more precise,
And passionate for naming particular things,
And particular parts of things,
So he writes of a shive of wood, shivers of silex,
Of a gripe, a thrave, and a strike of corn
And likes to use words for parts of the body
Like shanks, chine, neckbone, and the older
Halse, weasand, chaps, and barme
(And so, like Browning’s Karshish — Arabic, qāhash
Picker-up of learning’s crumbs,
Or to T. S. Eliot’s line
‘Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze’
And myself with my Ecclefechan Gongorism,
And even Spender’s ‘the narcine torpesce.’
Since ecdysis is never complete
Language like the Andean Indian character
Is always prepared to conjoin the incongruous
And marry the incompatible into a polycladous tradition
Multiradicate in the distant past)
— I delight in all these and hundreds more [...]
And, above all, my great master, Shestov with his supreme τόλμα [...]
And Alexander Murray, who studied the languages
Of Western Asia and North-East Africa and Lappish
And wrote the ‘History of European Languages,’
And others of my contemporaries living still
(Most cunning dealers in zaumny and skaz
And workers in dialect and slang,
Multilinguists and grammarians and philologists,
Orismologists, sematologists, semasiologists,
And epeolators all),
Diaskeuasts of the Omnific Word,
That heroic genius, Antonio Gramsci,
Studying comparative linguistics in prison,
For, as he said in his Lettere dal Carcere,
‘Nothing less! What could be more
Disinterested and für ewig?’

(I wrote about Doughty here, here, and here. I have no idea where Eliot wrote “Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze,” if in fact he did.) To wash that down, here’s a delicious bit from Lucky Poet:

On my muse’s tea-table appear
Such delicacies as Austrian Pfeffernuss, iced honey-cakes,
Round or oblong in shape, or those other honey-cakes
From Dijon, wrapped in green and gold, very gay,
And many varieties of the German Lebkuchen,
And Oblaten, thin biscuits from Salzburg,
And delicious French pain d’épice,
While to dine with her is to know
The truffle of Perigord, the brocarra of Tulle,
Auvergnian roast ham with chestnut sauce,
The thick cabbage soup of Thiers, the poulards of Bresse,
Algerian couscous, Spanish puchero,
Polish barszcz and kromeski, Italian gnocchi,
Calves’ tongues cooked with almonds from Greece,
Goulash and sherbet au Tokay from Hungary,
Bamboo sprouts from the Far East,
Watarzoie de Poulet from Belgium,
Scotch grouse, Scandinavian hors d’oeuvre,
American lemon pie, and Viennese Linzertorte.

Comments

  1. Ah, the Lebkuchen and Pfeffernüsse of the Christmases of my youth, when my mother was alive and made as presents every year twelve kinds of cookies, of which only two (these two) were store-bought.
    But what is this zaumny? Crabbedness?

  2. Zaum.

  3. Nice to have some incentive to research Gramsci – up until now I only knew him from an eponymous square in Siena. I never saw it written down and our tour guide pronounced it sort of like “Grumpshee”, which struck me as a very odd Italian word indeed.

  4. Ah, thanks. I googled for заумний and got a hit on a Ukrainian-English dictionary that defined it as ‘crabbed’.

  5. Graham Asher says:

    Trust McDiarmid to get his facts wrong, and to make an ill-natured dig, but then he didn’t have Wikipedia. It was a translation of Marco Girolamo Vida into English by Christopher Pitt that found its way into Chalmers’s English Poets.

  6. Speaking as a Pole: barszcz I know and love, but what the bloody hell are kromeski? I know them only in the French orthographic version (cromesquis) as an alleged Polish culinary specialité. I would call such a dish krokieciki w cieście ‘croquettes in (pancake) batter’. The French name must be a terribly mangled version of something Polish, but what? Perhaps kromeczki ‘small slices’?

  7. Ha, I was wondering about that myself! I’m sure he got it via the French; curious that it’s such a mysterious name.

  8. krokieciki > cromesquis
    “Well, it begins /kro/ and all those Polish words end in /ski/, don’t they? And then we add our own plural ending, of course, particularly since it’s silent anyway so why not.”
    Very simple reasoning. “What is not rationalized is not French.”

  9. The Polish ex-king (and Louis XV’s father-in-law) Stanisław Leszczyński spent his post-abdication years in exile in France, where they pronounced his name as [lɛɡzɛ̃'ski] rather than [lɛʂ'tʂɨɲski], so I suppose anything is possible.

  10. Rodger C says:

    If all you know of Doughty is Travels in Arabia Deserta, you must try out The Dawn in Britain. I find it’s best in small doses.

  11. dearieme says:

    “Trust McDiarmid to get his facts wrong, and to make an ill-natured dig”.
    When I was fifteen or sixteen I was approached by a local codger who had heard, he said, that I liked poetry and that sort of thing. Aye. Had I heard, he asked, of a poet from Langholm, name of Grieve? Aye, McDiarmid. Just so. He told me that he too had grown up in Langholm, and was a few years younger than Grieve. He went on to elaborate on what a nasty fellow Grieve was.
    He must have been unusually unpleasant, I suppose, that someone would nurse his feelings about him for sixty years before approaching some blameless youth to spill it all out.

  12. Eh, perhaps he told everyone he met. Living meanly as the best revenge, somehow.

  13. I don’t follow your reasoning, dearie. It’s perfectly natural for codgers to batten on blameless youth to vent their wind, or worse. BY is polite and inexperienced, it doesn’t know how to say no. That attracts predators of all kinds.

  14. I read and enjoyed Doughty for the stories, but I agree with the oft-expressed criticism of his writing, described in an article in Aramco Magazine as “an artificial blend of Chaucerian and Spenserian English.” It goes on to say :
    “Nearly 60 years in all,” he later confessed, “I have given to the tradition of noble Chaucer and beloved Spenser.”
    Which seems to explain it. Doesn’t detract from his achievements but does make the reading rather heavy going sometimes – like driving through fech-fech.

  15. Treesong says:

    I was unaware that ‘Fech fech (Arabic: فش فش‎) is a very fine powder caused by the erosion of clay-limestone terrain. This pulverized soil is common under a thin crust in deserts. It is not determinable from the surface and can therefore pose a significant transportation hazard acting as a surprise “trap” as the ground collapses beneath a vehicle miring it in a quicksand-like substance.’

  16. marie-lucie says:

    PG: The Polish ex-king (and Louis XV’s father-in-law) Stanisław Leszczyński spent his post-abdication years in exile in France, where they pronounced his name as [lɛɡzɛ̃'ski] rather than [lɛʂ'tʂɨɲski], so I suppose anything is possible.
    This is the first time that I have seen this name spelled the Polish way. In French the king is known as Stanislas Leczinski, of course pronounced [lɛɡzɛ̃'ski]. His daughter, known in France as Marie Leczinska, married King Louis XV and became queen of France (but was never a reigning sovereign, since only males were eligible for the position). According to Wikipedia.fr, her name and that of her father are now often spelled the Polish way, but I don’t know how that affects the current French pronunciations.

  17. Of course I know how the name came to be pronounced the way it is; I thought of Leszczyński/Leczinski for the following reason. He was an accomplishet gourmet who, from what I’ve read, loved experimenting in the kitchen and learning from professional chefs (see this sialagogic anecdote about the perfect onion soup recipe). He is credited with some Polish contributions to French culinary art, and at least one loanword (baba, as in “baba au rhum”). Who knows, perhaps also cromesquis have something to do with his hobby.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    I had to look up cromesqui(s) on Google as I had never heard or seen the word. Some examples treat the s as plural, others not. According to the descriptions of the food, it does not seem to be a good choice for cholesterol-conscious eaters.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    la soupe à l’oignon: After reading Wikipedia.fr on the topic (thanks Piotr), I can imagine King Stanislas following the cook into the kitchen to learn how to make the perfect onion soup, but I can’t imagine King Louis XV left alone and practically foodless in the “hunting lodge” (hardly a hut), having to fend for himself and improvise a meal with only onions and dried bread available. A royal hunting party always included a number of servants of one kind or another, of course including cooks, and more than enough of the supplies needed for the duration (for both humans and dogs).

  20. “Watarzoie de Poulet from Belgium”
    Waterzooi is the usual spelling, and as it’s originally a Flemish dish, rather than Walloon, kippenwaterzooi would be the PC name of the version made with chicken. I’ve cooked it: very fine with a good Belgian golden ale.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Z, but what kind of dish is Waterzooi? stew? soup?

  22. It’s a fish (or chicken, evidently) and vegetable broth soup with cream added. I used to love it at Bruxelles, the best Belgian restaurant in NYC. WP says it was the favorite dish of Charles V.

  23. Yet another spam-salvage:
    Maybe you have seasoned a memory space consequently stunning that you just come to feel like it simply occurred this morning? What happens, I mean. You happen to be located on any shuttle bus and you notice an audio track through the earphones of your other half beside you actually.

  24. Well, Google Books presents us with this snippet from p.16 of Poetry in Our Time: A Review of Contemporary Values by James Devaney (1952):

    From the beginning the young poets of modernism put cleverness first. When Spender talks of “the narcine torpesce”, or when Eliot writes the line Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze, we know that he is only striking an attitude [...]

    Alas, clicking through gives a different and totally irrelevant snippet. And this is obviously not an independent source, but at least it suggests that the line might be authentic.

  25. des von bladet says:

    In Memoriam James Joyce is, to my unamusement, still firmly out of print. The publishers of poetry apparently see their business as the manufacture of scarcity, and they take it very seriously.

    But is Mistral’s Provencal really worth reading? He’s out of copyright, so they probably can’t stop me if he is. Or indeed if he isn’t.

  26. Des, In Memoriam James Joyce is in the Carcanet Complete Poems.

  27. des von bladet says:

    Excellent, thanks!

  28. Des, anytime.

    “Unamus[ingly] out of print” Scottish Modernists are a thing, though. E.g., Nessie Dunsmuir, wife and editor of W. S. Graham, the dedicatee of “I leave this at your ear for when you wake,” who had a poem printed in Poetry Scotland 4, edited by MacDiarmid in 1949, and had books titled Seven Poems and Ten Poems in the ’80′s. Can’t find any more, and can’t quote the one I read in PS 4, industrial-(landscape-)themed, because I shed libraries, sorry.

    .

    Here is another epeolatric/(pre-)Informationist poem by MacDiarmid – On a Raised Beach.

    My fave maybe, for the scale it uncoils on.

    The indifference of the masses of mankind, –
    So are most men with any stone yet,
    Even those who juggle with lapidary’s, mason’s, geologist’s words
          And all their knowledge of stones in vain,
    Tho’ these stones have far more differences in colour, shape and size
          Than most men to my eyes –
    Even those who develop precise conceptions to immense distances
          Out of these bleak surfaces.
    All human culture is a Goliath to fall
    To the least of these pebbles withal.
    A certain weight will be added yet
    To the arguments of even the most foolish
    And all who speak glibly may rest assured
    That to better their oratory they will have the whole earth
    For a Demosthenean pebble to roll in their mouths.

  29. Yes, a magnificent poem. A couple of other nice bits:

    We must be humble. We are so easily baffled by appearances
    And do not realise that these stones are one with the stars.
    It makes no difference to them whether they are high or low,
    Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace, or pigsty.
    There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined
    stones.

    . . .

    I must get into this stone world now.
    Ratchel, striae, relationships of tesserae,
          Innumerable shades of grey,
          Innumerable shapes,
    And beneath them all a stupendous unity,
    Infinite movement visibly defending itself
    Against all the assaults of weather and water,
    Simultaneously mobilised at full strength
    At every point of the universal front,
    Always at the pitch of its powers,
    The foundation and end of all life.
    I try them with the old Norn words – hraun,
    Duss, rønis, queedaruns, kollyarum;
    They hvarf from me in all directions
    Over the hurdifell – klett, millya hellya, hellyina bretta,
    Hellyina wheeda, hellyina grø, bakka, ayre, –
    And lay my world in kolgref.

  30. The way it opens, too. Some say he’s plodding when he is didactic but this is a panorama and an anthem and how is this worse than “In the how-dumb-deid” or “I ha’e forekent ye, O, I hae forekent!”

    All is lithogenesis — or lochia,
    Carpolite fruit of the forbidden tree,
    Stones blacker than any in the Caaba,
    Cream-coloured caen-stone, chatoyant pieces,
    Celadon and corbeau, bistre and beige,
    Glaucous, hoar, enfouldered, cyathiform,
    Making mere faculae of the sun and moon,
    I study you glout and gloss, but have
    No cadrans to adjust you with, and turn again
    From optik to haptik and like a blind man run
    My fingers over you, arris by arris, burr by burr,
    Slickensides, truité, rugas, foveoles,
    Bringing my aesthesis in vain to bear,
    An angle-titch to all your corrugations and coigns,
    Hatched foraminous cavo-rilievo of the world,
    Deictic, fiducial stones. Chiliad by chiliad
    What bricole piled you here, stupendous cairn?

  31. des von bladet says:

    What price an ebook of Informationists?

    Needless to say, not a chance. (I came across them. I was all set to have a Phase. Scarcity intervened. This is no way to conduct a civilisation in the 21st century.)

  32. You can have a phase disjointly I guess…

    Richard Price, Robert Crawford, WN Herbert all alive and publishing;
    maybe Gerry Loose could be associated with the bunch;
    not associated, but striking if you like On A Raised Beach, is Randolph Healy (links to excerpts). I’d recommend a Healy phase to anyone.

    If I find the Herbert/Crawford joint Sharawaggi, which I think I have but may have misplaced, I’ll quote.

  33. des von bladet says:

    Bloodaxe has accidentally left an Objectivist anthology in print (I am guessing they over-estimated the British public’s enthusiasm for the school), so I’m having that phase first.

    (I just bought the ebook of Randolph Healey’s Hex because more of that sort of publishing please.)

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