Paddling About Among Philologers.

SONNET

I am much inclined towards a life of ease
And should not scorn to spend my dwindling years
In places where my sort of fancy stirs;
Perched up on ladders in old libraries
With several quartos pouring off my knees…
Translating Ariosto into verse…
Paddling about among philologers
And Dictionaries and concordances!

There, on some dark oak table, more and more
Voluminous each day, ye should perceive
My Magnum Opus…that one which untwists
Their bays from poets who shirk metaphor
And make rich words grow obsolete, and leave
Imagination to Psychiatrists.

   — Owen Barfield

From A Barfield Sampler: Poetry and Fiction by Owen Barfield (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), via Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti. You can see another another language-related Barfield poem at this Laudator post.

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:

    …Is the first stanza in an AABAABBA rhyme scheme?

  2. It’s ABBAABBA; he’s treating “concordances” as if it rhymed with “ease” (that’s what they call poetic license).

  3. David Marjanović says:

    But rhyming “years” with “ease” is at least something Australians might do (…or do they add a length distinction?), while I’m not aware of anyone rhyming “years” with “stirs”…?

    Historico-linguistic fun with rhymes in English folk songs.

  4. I’m not aware of anyone rhyming “years” with “stirs”

    Sure you are, it’s right there in front of you, and I’m sure it’s been done before — it’s a natural rhyme as long as you’re not insisting on exact matches. He rhymes “years” with “stirs,” “verse,” and “philologers.” I find it hard to imagine anyone rhyming “years” with “ease” except in a dialect poem.

  5. If I pronounce years to rhyme with stirs, I end up sounding like former Senator Fritz Hollings, but it is a much easier rhyme that years with ease.

  6. If I pronounce years to rhyme with stirs

    You’re not supposed to do that, any more than you’re supposed to pronounce concordances to rhyme with ease; you’re just supposed to accept them as (off-)rhymes.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    But concordances does rhyme with ease as soon as you put enough stress in a bizarre place; and there’s something of a tradition of doing that in English poetry, as explained at the link I posted. Stress cannot explain years rhyming with stirs or with ease.

    Contrast the unremarkably exact rhymes in the second stanza.

    former Senator Fritz Hollings

    becomes the most parsimonious explanation, then.

  8. Father Jape says:

    There are UK speakers who rhyme years and stirs. IIRC some old RP speakers and then also you can find this in Wales?

  9. But concordances does rhyme with ease as soon as you put enough stress in a bizarre place

    And my aunt becomes my uncle if I give her a sex-change operation. Come on, now; if you’re going to insist on exact rhymes, what do you do with “verse”? Give it a voiced ending?

  10. Stu Clayton says:

    #
    But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
    You can tell by the way she smiles
    See the primitive wallflower freeze
    When the jelly-faced women all sneeze
    Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze
    I can’t find my knees”
    Can’t find no ease
    In concordanceeze
    #

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    There are UK speakers who rhyme years and stirs … also you can find this in Wales?

    Yes, at least in these southern parts: [jɜːz], [stɜːz], more or less. “Hears” is also [jɜːz], with an analogically remodelled past [jɜːd] instead of the [ɜːd] which would regularly correspond to “heard.”

  12. David L says:

    I think of old-fashioned English RP speakers as rhyming years with stairs rather than stirs. I would email Her Majesty to find out but even she doesn’t talk like that anymore.

  13. Bathrobe says:

    ‘Years’ and ‘ease’ do not rhyme in Australian English. I can’t describe it exactly using either phonetic symbols or linguistically correct terminology, but I can tell you:

    1) ‘Ease’ when pronounced in an exaggeratedly broad pronunciation sounds something like [əɪz].

    2) ‘Years’ when pronounced in the broadest style sounds something like [jɪ:z]. If a less broad pronunciation is used, the pronunciation is something like [jɪəz].

    You will note that the glide is totally different in ‘ease’ and ‘years’.

  14. Russian philologer Mikhail Gasparov translated “Orlando” in his senior years. He claimed that he hadn’t planned to do a translation, just to read the poem, but he went along making notes and that turned into the translation.

  15. It’s otherwise in a pretty old-school Petrarchan sonnet form so it HAS to be ABBAABBA, I think.

    I have no problem at all with imagining an old posh British guy rhyming “years”/”stirs”/”verse”/”philologers” – if you’re an old posh British guy, with a tiny bit of tweaking they all end more or less in an “-əhs” sound, right?

    My question is: what the heck does “untwists their bays” mean?

  16. AG, I guess, bay here means laurel.

  17. Jones’s pronunciation dictionary (the 1919 edition) has both the stir and the steer vowels for year.

  18. AJP Crown says:

    And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
    Drinking beers with their peers –
    All this she heers as she’s climbing the steers

    Like Italian & French pretty much everything rhymes in RP. But you can’t lump everyone in middle & upper-class England into the same accent. I don’t know for sure, but the queen probably says ‘staz’ rather than ‘steers’.

    http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Belloc-Hilaire_Tarantella.html

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    Earlier Arabic poetry has the same rhyme throughout, for anything up to 100 lines or so.

  20. Off topic. Whatever errors might be in her latest history tome, I think Jill Lepore is a fine writer. New essay this morning in the New Yorker.

  21. Kennedy says:

    Just as Hat stated, Barfield is obviously using slant rhyme:

    https://www.dictionary.com/browse/slant-rhyme

  22. AJP Crown says:

    Earlier Arabic poetry has the same rhyme throughout, for anything up to 100 lines or so.

    The thing to do is change it to something else for line 101 and then The End.

  23. D.O. – ah so… would never have thought of laurel, and hearty thanks to you!

  24. Whatever errors might be in her latest history tome, I think Jill Lepore is a fine writer.

    She is indeed, and all books contain errors. I’m pretty sure anyone who dismisses something she writes because it had an error simply doesn’t like her politics.

  25. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW, in the Belloc poem AJPC linked to w/o AJP’s own emendations, all the words that I infer from context were intended as rhymes by the author do rhyme perfectly for me in my variety of AmEng — although obviously the vowels sometimes sound rather different than they would have in Belloc’s voice.

  26. AJP Crown says:

    JW, for what it’s worth Belloc had an American wife. I can’t find any recordings of his voice despite his dying a mere 66 years ago, one month after my birth. You can see & hear Christopher Hitchens reading from Cautionary Tales here (starting at minute 35). Syd Barrett was apparently another fan of Hilaire Belloc. Syd’s original lyrics for Matilda Mother contain quotations from Cautionary Tales, but they are only available on a much later reissue of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Belloc heirs having objected during the 1960s.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp4DjDxpdTk

  27. I hate it when heirs put on airs.

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJP: I had not been aware of that alternative version of Matilda Mother and am much obliged to have had my attention drawn to it. I witnessed a bunch of Syd-era compositions being played live earlier this year by that excellent cover band Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, but MM was not on the setlist, thereby I guess avoiding any need to figure out which set of lyrics to use.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Thanks about Australian, I evidently got the registers mixed up.

    Come on, now; if you’re going to insist on exact rhymes, what do you do with “verse”? Give it a voiced ending?

    See, I thought it had one, because the spelling vehemently insists that it does. *shakes fist*

  30. Jonathan D says:

    Bathrobe has given a good description of Australian ease and years, but my Australian ears still find years a closer rhyme with ease than stirs.

  31. @David Marjanović: A –rse word ending in English is virtually always unvoiced.

  32. Stu Clayton says:

    To indicate voiced, -rze is used. Furze. (Is there another ??)

  33. PlasticPaddy says:

    I suppose DM is generalising from hairs, bears, dares, etc. and German Ferse. I think part of the answer is that in verse, terse, nurse, curse, purse, hearse, Erse, etc. the second syllable began with the s and might have been spelt with ss ( or they may have always been one syllable), whereas the words with the hard s were shortened by syncope from haires, beares, dareth but someone here probably knows.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    A -rse word ending in English is virtually always unvoiced.

    That’s probably true. I still expected graphically intervocalic -rs- to be more likely voiced than not, and arse to be an exception with a fake -e like determine and intestine.

    Maybe the -e is actually there precisely to make clear that the -s is part of the root and not a voiced ending.

    and German Ferse

    Hard to say. On the one hand, I don’t have a [z] in my German sound systems at all, I have a length distinction. On the other hand, unsurprisingly, /sː/ doesn’t follow current or former consonants.

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