With Interjected Finger.

My wife, after reading me numerous bits from Ford Madox Ford’s memoir Memories and Impressions: A Study in Atmospheres, told me I had to read it myself, and so I am doing, with immense pleasure (reading her in turn numerous bits, sometimes the same bits she had previously read to me). The following passage, from the end of the chapter on Pre-Raphaelite poets, is not only LH material in and of itself, it is very relevant to the discussion now going on in this thread:

But they took themselves with such extreme seriousness — these Pre-Raphaelite poets — and nevertheless I have always fancied that to my mind they are responsible for the death of English poetry. My father once wrote of Rossetti that he put down the thoughts of Dante in the language of Shakespeare, and the words seem to me to be extremely true and extremely damning. For what is wanted of a poet is that he should express his own thoughts in the language of his own time. This the Pre-Raphaelite poets never thought of, with perhaps the solitary exception of Christina Rossetti.

I remember once hearing Stephen Crane — the author of The Red Badge of Courage and of The Open Boat, which is the finest volume of true short stories in the English language — I remember hearing him, with his wonderful eyes flashing and his extreme vigor of intonation, commenting upon a sentence of Robert Louis Stevenson that he was reading. The sentence was, “With interjected finger he delayed the motion of the timepiece.” “By God, poor dear!” Crane exclaimed. “That man put back the clock of English fiction fifty years.” I do not know that this is exactly what Stevenson did. I should say myself that the art of writing in English received the numbing blow of a sandbag when Rossetti wrote at the age of eighteen The Blessed Damozel. From that time forward and until to day — and for many years to come! — the idea has been inherent in the mind of the English writer that writing was a matter of digging for obsolete words with which to express ideas forever dead and gone. Stevenson did this, of course, as carefully as any Pre-Raphaelite, though instead of going to medieval books he ransacked the seventeenth century, But this tendency is unfortunately not limited to authors misusing our very excellent tongue; for the other day I was listening to an excellent Italian conferencier who assured an impressed audience that Signor d’Annuncio is the greatest Italian stylist there has ever been, since in his last book he has used over 2,017 obsolete words which cannot be understood by a modern Italian without the help of a medieval glossary.

Which chimes with this passage from Pound’s obit of Ford:

And he felt the errors of contemporary style to the point of rolling (physically, and if you look at it as a mere superficial snob, ridiculously) on the floor of his temporary quarters in Giessen, when my third volume displayed me trapped, fly-papered, gummed and strapped down in a jejune provincial effort to learn, mehercule, the stilted language that then passed for “good English” in the arthritic milieu that held control of the respected British critical circles, Newbolt, the backwash of Lionel Johnson, Fred Manning, the Quarterlies and the rest of ’em.

And that roll saved me at least two years, perhaps more. It sent me back to my own proper effort, namely toward using the living tongue (with younger men after me), though none of us has found a more natural language than Ford did.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    Although you can see what FMF means, he seems to arbitrarily restrict the range of artistic expression. It’s perfectly possible to produce authentic, indeed great, art in a deliberately archaising style.

    Spenser is the obvious example in English poetry.

    I like “The Blessed Damozel.” I must admit, though, that that hardly counts as an argument against Ford’s point. Furthermore, I think he’s on to something with “took themselves with such extreme seriousness.” I like “The Blessed Damozel” as a poem which I can’t possibly take in the spirit in which it was presumably intended. Mind you, I feel exactly the same about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which is a truly wonderful poem, well worthy of its classic status, which however strikes me as the very best of high camp; surely not Coleridge’s intention.

    Both poems (especially the Ancient Mariner) are in any case technically extremely good qua poetry, however one might feel about them in a broader sense; it would be bizarre criticism not to recognise that.

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ford may, I suppose, be implying, not that poems like these aren’t any good, but that, being genuinely good poems, they queered the pitch for poetry in a less ornate or archaising style.

    I’m not sure this bears scrutiny; there are plenty of less highly wrought poems from that era which were as highly regarded then as now.

    I wonder, too, if Ford’s mistaking cause for effect. The Pre-Raphaelites wrote that way because it it was consistent with their whole aesthetic and philosophical position, and they were hardly out of tune with their Zeitgeist. Even Dickens (hardly a Pre-Raphaelite in temperament) ranges in style from very ornate to strikingly plain, but never gets as close to contemporary informal style as a modern novelist would.

    Again, the idea that authenticity in art is about content more than form is itself a very distinctive aesthetic standpoint which only seems obvious to us because it is so very characteristic of modern Western culture. Most other times and most other places would have disagreed (or been mystified.)

  3. Again, the idea that authenticity in art is about content more than form is itself a very distinctive aesthetic standpoint which only seems obvious to us because it is so very characteristic of modern Western culture. Most other times and most other places would have disagreed (or been mystified.)

    I’m mystified myself; that’s not what Ford was saying, or (I’m sure) what he believed, and it’s certainly not what I (a paid-up member of modern Western culture) believe.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    OK, didn’t put that very well. By “form” I meant the adoption of a manner of diction consciously remote from everyday speech; the idea that this sort of thing is an integral part of poetry is what I meant in this context as prioritising form over content.

    I suppose (to muddy the waters) there is a parallel regarding self-consciously “religious” speech (where personally I am on the side of the neophiliacs) where the archaisers regard ordinary language as inappropriate to the dignity of the subject matter.

    I’m not astonished to hear that you yourself don’t subscribe to my cartoonish oversimplification of modern Western culture; I don’t mean that prioritising content over form the only aesthetic criterion we now use, or that people of culture know no other, but I would still maintain that it is a particularly striking feature of our culture compared with most.

  5. instead of going to medieval books [Stevenson] ransacked the seventeenth century

    More likely he was writing Scots instead of English without noticing it. The DSL defines interject as ‘place between, interpose’: as is often the case, Scots preserves the Latin semantics of borrowings more closely than English does. RLS tried to keep Scots and English separate in his writing, but he often failed.

    I’m not sure this bears scrutiny

    It does not: the ‘Rime’ is exactly contemporaneous with Wordsworth’s Lucy poems.

    the adoption of a manner of diction consciously remote from everyday speech; the idea that this sort of thing is an integral part of poetry

    I think that is not so much Western as anglophone, and the cause of it is the adoption of originally alien principles of composition, particularly rhyme, which requires the use of a large vocabulary in order to have sufficient rhymes for the indecent superfluity of English vowels and final consonant clusters.

  6. The idea that poetry has to be written in a special register different from everyday language is a common one in many cultures and time periods.

  7. I looked up the quotation by Stevenson. It’s from “Markheim,” and Crane misquotes it. The sentence occurs after Markheim has murdered an antiquary, in a shop filled with clocks: “So little a while ago that face had moved with every change of sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on fire with governable energies; and now, and by his act, that piece of life had been arrested, as the horologist, with interjected finger, arrests the beating of a clock.” “Interjected” is perhaps odd, and “governable” may push the clock metaphor too hard, but it’s not as stuffy as Crane makes it.

  8. Pound? The language of his own time? Well I don’t know that I would have described his language that way quite.

    He’s more affected by current language than the Pre-Raphaelites, I guess you can make the point be.

  9. More likely he was writing Scots instead of English without noticing it.

    And by writing Scots, shaping English at the same time.

    As a parallel case, one of the things that I like about BBC Persian is that they make an effort to include Tajiks and Afghans and Hazaras, so it’s not just Tehruni 24-7 (see Manoto for an example of that). The written language is archaising from an Iranian perspective, but closer to what the Afghans and Tajiks speak (e.g. differentiating غ and ق, pronouncing -آن as /ɑn/, vocabulary that is rare or archaic in Iran), and for someone interested in the older literature this is really helpful.

  10. The idea that poetry has to be written in a special register different from everyday language is a common one in many cultures and time periods.

    Partly because the original purpose of poetry was to make the oral tradition easier to memorise and not only transmit it far and wide but also hand it down to future generations. The distance between Homer and classical Ancient Greek was comparable to that between Shakespeare and a modern audience (and the language of Homer was deliberately archaising even for his time). The hymns of the Rigveda were first written down probably during the Gupta period, ca. AD 400, and again the distance between them and the spoken Indo-Aryan languages of the time was like that between Classical Latin and any modern Romance language.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    The idea that poetry has to be written in a special register different from everyday language is a common one in many cultures and time periods.

    And it’s not limited to writing! Plenty of unwritten languages have a poetic register that makes use of a larger vocabulary, unusual metaphors and/or grammatical features that are otherwise rare or extinct.

    the adoption of originally alien principles of composition, particularly rhyme, which requires the use of a large vocabulary in order to have sufficient rhymes

    Rhyme is just as originally alien to German, and yet the Nibelungenlied already rhymes (at the expense of alliteration); while I can’t judge if it’s in a special poetic register, later German poetry is full of archaisms, other grammatical oddities and other rare words – the only difference to English may be that those words tend to be native.

  12. Richard Hershberger says:

    My two cents is that Christina Rosetti produced some very fine poetry. My church has an extremely traditional/stuffy Christmas service with mostly the same music every year. “In the Bleak Midwinter” is, I believe without having actually checked, the most modern hymn of the lot.

    More generally, I want to echo David Eddyshaw’s point that a deliberately archaic style is a perfectly legitimate artistic choice. See also: J.R.R. Tolkien. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, and we have any number of people who prefer elves shield-surfing to working through that difficult language. That is their business, but it doesn’t mean that archaic language is inherently bad.

  13. Sir JCass says:

    Pound? The language of his own time?

    What thou lovest well remains,
    the rest is dross
    What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
    What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
    Whose world, or mine or theirs
    or is it of none?

    I doubt this was the “living tongue” of the late 1940s.

  14. The idea that poetry has to be written in a special register different from everyday language is a common one in many cultures and time periods.

    Sure, as is the idea that the oppression of women is natural and inevitable. I’m not saying the two are equivalent, just that commonness and hoary antiquity do not require acceptance for all time.

    I looked up the quotation by Stevenson. It’s from “Markheim,” and Crane misquotes it.

    Very likely Ford rather than Crane; he’s quite unrepentant about getting a lot of things wrong in his memoirs — near the beginning he says so-and-so pointed out to him that he couldn’t possibly have been in such a place at such a time, and he says very likely not, but that’s the way he remembers it, and if people want facts they can go to an encyclopedia. Quite right, too!

    one of the things that I like about BBC Persian is that they make an effort to include Tajiks and Afghans and Hazaras, so it’s not just Tehruni 24-7

    Excellent!

    My two cents is that Christina Rosetti produced some very fine poetry.

    Yes, I was very pleased to see that Ford singled her out in this context. She was a terrific (and wonderfully modern) poet.

    More generally, I want to echo David Eddyshaw’s point that a deliberately archaic style is a perfectly legitimate artistic choice.

    Sure; the point is not that no one should ever write in anything but the spoken language of the day but that archaic style should not be mandatory. Those (relatively few) people to whom old forms and vocabulary feel natural and necessary should of course use them, and those readers who enjoy them will enjoy them, but the default assumption should be that the way people speak (meaning the forms of language, not — obviously — the banal things they actually say in daily conversation) is the normal and expected language of literature. Otherwise you get people sneering at Keats for being a cockney and the vast majority of people shut out from literature. And yes, the vast majority of people have been shut out from literature throughout most of history; I trust no one is going to argue that therefore that’s right and proper.

  15. I doubt this was the “living tongue” of the late 1940s.

    No, but it’s great poetry (by someone who was born in the 1880s and therefore grew up with it), and if you can write great poetry you get to do so in whatever manner you choose.

  16. All this reminds me of Jack Vance.

  17. And it’s not limited to writing! Plenty of unwritten languages have a poetic register that makes use of a larger vocabulary, unusual metaphors and/or grammatical features that are otherwise rare or extinct.

    Fair enough, and I made my point too strongly: Beowulf certainly has a poetic register despite using native words and devices almost exclusively. But I do think there’s a fundamental difference between English poetry, which until the 20C insisted on such things, and (say) Finnish poetry, where mere verse-making is unbelievably easy (how hard is it to make trochaic verse when all words have initial stress?), or Old French, where it’s routine to write whole stanzas all of whose lines rhyme.

    And by writing Scots, shaping English at the same time

    It’s hard to believe that such an ordinary noun as raid is only used in English when talking about Scottish events (sometimes in foreign-word quotes) until after Walter Scott uses it in The Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1806, and then by 1868 it is applied to Brazilian incursions into Uruguay without any sense of using a foreignism (per the OED). Etymologically it’s a doublet of native road: the abstract noun rád ‘ride, event of riding’ concretized in different ways in the two languages.

    extremely traditional/stuffy Christmas service

    I prefer to think of it as “pre-filtered”. But then I think there are only about three or four non-fluff carols written in the 20C. On the other hand, I’ve always thought “Away in a Manger” was vapid, though I have a soft spot for “Good King Wenceslas”, even if it is “a Victorian singing commercial” (Frye).

    Those (relatively few) people to whom old forms and vocabulary feel natural and necessary should of course use them, and those readers who enjoy them will enjoy them

    What, enjoy Ye Olde Craparoonie?

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    Yeah, not only should one not assume that FMF’s quotation of Stevenson is perfectly accurate, one should not bet too much money on the alleged conversation w/ Crane about it having actually happened.

  19. Stevenson wrote in more than one style. “Ransacked the seventeenth century” sounds more like his style in The Black Arrow, which the Fowlers memorably took to task in The King’s English (“It is like a child with a new toy”). The Markheim passage is something totally different, and is RLS at his distinctive best — who else could have written a phrase like “all on fire with governable energies”? And what on earth is supposed to be the matter with the “interjected finger”? The image is perfectly clear and could hardly have been expressed more succinctly and vividly.

  20. And what on earth is supposed to be the matter with the “interjected finger”?

    The fact that interject ‘interpose’ is an archaic sense in English (but not, or less so, in Scots), hence the idea of putting back the clock in English fiction.

  21. I have now read the Fowlers on sustained archaism, and it seems to me that the distinction between “negative archaism” (omitting the modern = good) and “positive archaism” (including the archaic = bad) is a product of their post-Victorian era. No fault to them not to know in 1908 that the great age of “archaic simplicity and direction” was yet to come, but if directness and eld be not entirely uncoupled, methinks the coupling goes in the other wise: verbal ornament is very much the mark of the Renaissance and the Elizabethan age as well as the Victorian.

    And when they say “He does not know very much about old English of any period; very few people do, and those who know most of it would be the last to write a narrative in it”, of course the modern reader thinks of Tolkien, who both knew it and did it maugre their teeth. Gladden as a flower name is no doubt archaic, but the Gladdon Fields would be ill-served as the Iris Fields, which sounds like the name of a modern novelist.

  22. Granted, Ford’s attitude is understandable writing in the decade of Eminent Victorians, when it must have seemed not only a literary but a social imperative that the musty parlors of High Victorian culture be cleared out of their Dickensian bric-a-brac and their Carlylean paraphernalia and given some fresh air and sunlight. Neophilia is natural when the archaizing style is so strongly bound together with the soppy-stern hypocrisy of the generation one is in rebellion against.

    But Hat, I can’t agree with your suggestion that literature which isn’t written in ordinary everyday language is in effect anti-democratic. Were the vast majority of Greeks shut out from their culture by the artificial forms in Homer? It’s possible of course — we don’t have their testimony — but I would think rather that the unusual but not incomprehensible language of the epics acted as a cultural glue. And has English poetry ever been less wedded to traditional forms, and at the same time less popular, than it is now?

  23. John, I think the negative/positive archaism distinction is still useful — you could describe Mantel’s Cromwell novels, for example, as negatively archaizing in that sense.

  24. Be careful when you dig for obsolete words. You may excavate something nasty and infectious, like weird or twat:

    http://langevo.blogspot.com/2014/08/de-extinction-mammoth-walks-again.html

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    @TR:

    “Ford’s attitude is understandable writing in the decade of Eminent Victorians

    Indeed yes. That very thing had occurred to me too. I think it’s an illuminating comparison; Strachey was not altogether wrong about the faults of his “Victorians”, but he seems to have been willfully blind to their virtues.

    @Piotr Gąsiorowski:

    “weird or twat”

    Really? Was “twat” resurrected? Its absence from nineteenth-century written records is hardly difficult to understand, and neither is poor old Browning’s innocence of the real meaning all that implausible, I’d say. Perhaps Browning’s readership (a small proportion of all Anglophones, then or now), like the man himself, didn’t know the word (or pretended not to, in the circumstances), but surely the resurrection not only of the sense but of the obscenity is unlikely. I can’t think of another scholarly word which is also currently obscene. Still, stranger things have happened…

  26. By the way, I suspect the Fowlers’ inventory of the archaist’s stock-in-trade — prithee, quotha and so on — is based on this passage in Lucian, where he gives a list of similar Greek words which, if sprinkled like a relish over any kind of speech, will give it the genuine fifth-century flavor that Atticists strive for. Their translation of Lucian appeared in the same year as The King’s English (scroll down to 16 for the passage): “Next, you must scrape up some fifteen old Attic words — say twenty for an outside estimate; and these you must rehearse diligently till you have them at the tip of your tongue; let us say sundry, whereupon, say you so, in some wise, my masters; that is the sort of thing; these are for general garnish, you understand”.

  27. But Hat, I can’t agree with your suggestion that literature which isn’t written in ordinary everyday language is in effect anti-democratic. Were the vast majority of Greeks shut out from their culture by the artificial forms in Homer?

    No, of course not. Again, I’m not saying literature which isn’t written in ordinary everyday language is wrong in and of itself, I’m saying it’s wrong if imposed as a requirement. Ordinary Greeks might not have been able to compose successfully in the Homeric dialect mix (though they enjoyed listening to it), but they could perfectly happily do so in the forms used by Archilochus, the elegiac couplet, etc. A mix is good, but one size doesn’t fit all.

  28. Bathrobe says:

    he says so-and-so pointed out to him that he couldn’t possibly have been in such a place at such a time, and he says very likely not, but that’s the way he remembers it, and if people want facts they can go to an encyclopedia. Quite right, too!

    You can tell Hat’s on an iconoclastic roll when he comes up with resounding endorsements like that…

    I hope that there are no porn authors reading Languagehat, otherwise “interjected finger” could experience an unexpected revival in the benthic reaches of English literature.

  29. I think the current BrE pronunciation of twat with TRAP does indicate its resurrection, at least on that side of the water: AmE uses the historic LOT pronunciation. In 1660, when the rhyme Browning used as his source was written, there was no TRAP vowel (or rather no PALM to contrast with it) and hat and twat did indeed rhyme, but they don’t in my speech. The alternative would be a unique sound shift that did not happen with twaddle/twattle. Twang is onomatopoeic and out of the picture.

    TR, I agree the distinction is useful, just not the associated value judgments.

    Bathrobe: I have been known to write erotica from time to time ….

  30. I always learnt it as TWOT. It was later that I heard TWAT.

  31. John, twang with the TRAP vowel is regular. The 17th-century rounding was blocked by a following velar, as in wagon, swag, swagger, wag, wax, thwack, whang etc. Some rarer/bookish words like quagmire may fluctuate between TRAP and LOT, but Late Modern English lexical innovations generally follow the old phonotactic pattern (swank, wacky, wank, wanker). Twang is not one of them: it has been in use since the 16th century.

    Before a following /f(t)/ the rounding was variable and if it failed to operate, the /a/ was subsequently affected by pre-fricative lengthening. Hence the still unresolved competition between LOT and PALM in BrE quaff, waft. There was also a third variant, with the CAUGHT vowel, but it’s practically obsolete in present-day mainstream British English.

    Before /m/, only the TRAP vowel is found, but the only two examples I can think of are wham (late and onomatopoeic) and swam (perhaps analogical after ran, sang etc.).

  32. What about swamp?

  33. James Kabala says:

    Richard Hershberger: “The Blessed Damozel” is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, her brother.

    ETA: Sorry, I missed at first that Christina Rossetti was also mentioned in the excerpt (and positively).

  34. Piotr, thanks for what Marie-Lucie calls “the precisions” (one of her few gallicisms). I discovered that my wife (born 1943 in the Upper South) has the FACE vowel in waft. Of course, Southern AmE doesn’t appear in dictionaries, and though I haven’t heard this before, she can’t be the only one.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    Late Modern English lexical innovations

    Innovations as far as their meaning is concerned, but I’m not so sure about the shapes.

    Wacky, I’m sure, is from onomatopoetic whack, as in having been whacked on the head too much or being out of whack. No idea how old that is.

    I have no idea what swank means; its existence as a surname (Hilary Swank of Hollywood) implies non-negligible age, however, if that’s not a coincidence. There’s an obsolete German word Schwank “short funny story”, and a verb schwanken, the s mobile variant of wanken below; in addition to the latter’s meanings, it’s what the floor does under your feet when you’re on a ship.

    Wanken is a perfectly innocent verb which describes swaying motions of people or buildings that look like they’re about to fall over. If you’re drunk, you can even nach Hause wanken. Cognacy seems obvious.

  36. The US Swanks are descendents of German Schwenks < Schwan.
    Swanky ‘ostentatious, chic’ is cognate with swagger.

  37. Keith, a good point about swamp (only LOT). But then, there’s variation in qualm (PALM ~ CAUGHT). As /l/-vocalisation in this context was one or two centuries older than /wa/ > /wɔ/, it’s safest to say that the outcome before /m/ was variable.

    David, swank can be a verb, an adjective or a noun, all having to do with ostentation, boasting or swaggering. The earliest examples in the OED are from the end of the 18th c. The word was regarded as dialectal until the early 20th c., so it may have had a ghost lineage of indefinite length. OE had the adjective swancor ‘bending easily, flexible’. To quote the OED (swank v.),

    The etymological meaning is uncertain, but perhaps the original notion is that of swinging the body, and the word is ultimately related to Old High German, Middle High German swanc swinging motion, Middle High German swanken (German schwanken) to sway, totter, etc.

    It’s hard to believe, but the earliest examples of wank (also spelt whank) recorded by the OED are from 1948 (n.) and 1950 (v.). Eric Partridge, who included wank in his dictionary of (presumably wartime) army slang, speculates that the word dates back to the late 19th or early 20th c. It may have originated as a slangy blend of whang, spank or any similar verbs. But then again OE had wancol ‘unstable, precarious, fickle’, which has survived into dialectal Modern English as wankle, evidently related to German wanken. So perhaps dialectal speakers simply wanked for centuries without writing about it until the word — uhm — leaked out into mainstream usage via barrack-room slang.

  38. Green’s Dictionary of Slang covers it with more detail than the OED.
    These days in the US I hear swanky with a jocular but not negative meaning, about the same as posh.

  39. P.S. Partridge has examples of wanker and wanky (with a variety of meanings suggesting an interesting semantic development) from the 1890s onwards, and notes East Anglian wanky = wankle ‘feeble’. Shame on you, OED editors!

  40. Bill W. says:

    “the default assumption should be that the way people speak (meaning the forms of language, not — obviously — the banal things they actually say in daily conversation) is the normal and expected language of literature. Otherwise you get people sneering at Keats for being a cockney”

    However Keats spoke, he didn’t write his poetry in cockney or the way he spoke — he wrote in an elevated language remote from everyday speech. The sneer was aimed at his social status, not his poetic language.

  41. Fair enough, although the language of his poetry isn’t nearly as elevated as some.

  42. Bill W. says:

    “I’m not saying literature which isn’t written in ordinary everyday language is wrong in and of itself, I’m saying it’s wrong if imposed as a requirement. Ordinary Greeks might not have been able to compose successfully in the Homeric dialect mix (though they enjoyed listening to it), but they could perfectly happily do so in the forms used by Archilochus, the elegiac couplet, etc.”

    No ancient Greek poetry was written in the language of everyday speech–not even Archilochus or elegy. Specific literary dialects were obligatory for specific genres. Even Tyrtaeus, the quintessential early Spartan poet, felt compelled to write elegy in Ionic, just as the Athenian dramatists felt compelled to write choruses in a Doric-colored language.

  43. No ancient Greek poetry was written in the language of everyday speech

    Well, no; poetry written in the language of everyday speech is pretty much a modern phenomenon. My point was that some kinds of poetry were less removed from everyday speech than others. You didn’t have to be a great poet or especially learned to write a decent elegiac couplet in Greek; hell, even I’ve done it.

  44. Bill W. says:

    “the language of his poetry isn’t nearly as elevated as some.”

    Thinking about this, I wonder whether it doesn’t seem as elevated because, unlike lesser poets, Keat’s language is never (well, hardly ever) ornamental — the non-colloquial elements are more completely integral to the poetry. Consequently, they strike the reader as perfectly natural, and not as affected or fustian.

  45. That’s well put, and I think I agree.

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    Keats’ artistic achievement of making an elevated-and-slightly-artificial register sound perfectly natural reminds me of the old Hollywood proverb (variously attributed) that the most important quality for an actor is sincerity, so if you can fake that you’ve got it made.

  47. Sir JCass says:

    How Keats spoke has been discussed before on this very blog.

  48. Sir JCass says:

    “A serious fellow even while he was alive, the avant-garde novelist B. S. Johnson once informed a table and the people sitting around it – I was one of them, so I can vouch for this – that he did not admire Shakespeare, because real people don’t talk in verse.” (Clive James)

  49. Michael Hendry says:

    Admirers of Shakespearean verse will gladly note that the criticism comes from a guy who chooses to go by his initials even when the initials are “B. S.”.

  50. “With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise as entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. It would be a positive relief to dig him up and throw stones at him.” —George Bernard Shaw

  51. Shaw and Tolstoy: two minds with but a single thought!

  52. It’s easy to predict Shaw’s opinions on anyone and anything – look at whatever Victorian or Edwardian society thought about someone or something, and assume that Shaw is contrarian to that…

  53. East Anglian wanky = wankle ‘feeble’

    I wouldn’t be surprised if wonky ‘unreliable’ (first recorded 1919) is related.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    Whither the policy wonk?

  55. A specialization of wonk ‘studious, hard-working person’ (1962). The OED connects it with the earlier sense ‘naval cadet; useless sailor’.

  56. David Marjanović says:

    Makes sense!

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