Metambesen is one of those fine old Native American place names; as we read in the American Historical Register for 1896:

About 1680 Colonel Peter Schuyler purchased from the Indians a tract of land lying over against Magdalen island, and in 1688 obtained therefor, from Governor Thomas Dongan, a patent, in which the boundaries are thus defined. “Situated, lying, and being on the east side of Hudson’s river, in Dutchess county over against Magdalen island, beginning at a certain creek called Metambesen (now the Sawkill), running thence easterly to about two miles southeast of Upper Red Hook, thence northerly so far, till, upon a due east and west line, it reaches over against Sawyer’s creek, from thence due west to the Hudson river, and from thence southerly along said river to the said creek, called Metambesen.”

Robert Kelly is fond of the name; he’s used it in his poetry (from “Yesterbite”: “just/ the sunlight on Metambesen/ and Baron Delafield’s untrimmed woods,/ a business in land”), and his wife, the translator Charlotte Mandell, writes me that they’ve set up a website of that name:

As citizens in the commonwealth of language, we are anxious to make new work freely and easily available, using the swift herald of the internet to bring readers chapbooks and other texts they can read and download without cost. The first publication in this series is Eyeland, photos by Charlotte Mandell with texts by Lynn Behrendt, Billie Chernicoff, Robert Kelly, and Tamas Panitz.

In future weeks, we will make more texts available, including the long poem The Language of Eden by Robert Kelly.

This is a fine thing to have done, and I await with eagerness whatever texts they decide to share.


  1. The flanges of words. The flanges of words. The flanges of words.

    Maybe dactyls are the phalanges of words.

    I like the phrase “over against”, too. Is that the exact counterpart of German “gegenüber”?

  2. Magdalen island

    As spelt or as in Oxford?

  3. Good question; I’d guess the former because American usage often doesn’t preserve such niceties, but you’d have to ask a local.

  4. ” On the maps they call it the Sawkill.”

    I wonder what “saw” means in that name. “Kill” is pretty obvious; I wonder what Dutch form “saw” goes back to.

    In our area the Lushootseed place names are almost always better than what replaced them. “Whulch” (Holch?) is what the Puget Sound ought to be called, and the mountain should be called “Mt. Tacoma” or something similar, if only to grind the Seattleites a bit. But naming two such important features of the landscape after two no-name investors is a crime.

  5. The U.S. government now recognizes Denali as the official name of Mt. McKinley, after decades of obstruction from the Ohio congressional delegation. The State of Alaska has always used the Native name.

  6. There are actually two Hudson River tributaries called the Saw Kill, one on the west side in Ulster County and the other on the east side in Dutchess County, the one referred to here. They were named after the many saw mills found along them. The similarly named Saw Mill River in Westchester County was de Zaagkil in Dutch (modernized spelling). There is also a third Saw Kill further north on the east side in Columbia County (where my house is), but it’s usually called Mill Creek today.

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