The Farm.

It’s been a while since I posted a poem, and since I just bought Donald Hall’s White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006 (Kindle Edition on sale today for $1.99), I thought I’d share “The Farm”:

Standing on top of the hay
in a good sweat,
I felt the wind from the lake
dry on my back,
where the chaff
grew like the down on my face.

At night on the bare boards
of the kitchen,
we stood while the old man
in his nightshirt gummed
the stale crusts
of his bread and milk.

Up on the gray hill
behind the barn, the stones
had fallen away
where the Penacook marked
a way to go
south from the narrow river.

By the side of the lake
my dead uncle’s rowboat rots
in heavy bushes.
Slim pickerel glint
in the water. Black horned pout
doze on the bottom.

As is the case with “The Old Pilot” (now titled “The Pilot of 1918”), it gets better as it goes along. The Pennacook were “a North American people of the Wabanaki Confederacy who primarily inhabited the Merrimack River valley”; a pout is “Any of various freshwater or marine fishes having a large head, especially an eelpout or a bullhead.” Happily, the OED updated its entry in December 2006; the new etymology reads:

Apparently cognate with Middle Dutch puut, puud, puyt, puet frog (perhaps also denoting a fish in a single instance in a proverb in early modern Dutch; Dutch puit frog, (rarely) fish of the family Gadidae, also puid frog; compare Dutch aalpuit, also puitaal fish of the family Gadidae, eel-pout; perhaps compare also Middle Dutch pudde, denoting a fish), further etymology uncertain; perhaps compare pout v.1 and discussion at that entry. Compare German regional (Low German) pūtāl eel-pout, frog, aalputte eel-pout. Compare eel-pout n.

It’s cruel of them not to quote the “proverb in early modern Dutch.”


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    Here is the proverb and two interpretations:
    Misschien is het bedoeld in eene niet duidelijke spreekw. zegswijze bij Goedthals 92, Brabant, 1568: “langhe gherechten; de puid is een weeldich here” , met de toevoeging “petit diner longuement attendu n’est pas donné mais cherement vendu”. Wellicht is de bedoeling dat als men lang heeft moeten wachten, men zelfs een puit op prijs stelt.

    So the text in early modern Flemish is “long courses (at a meal), the puid is a wealthy man” glossed as “petit diner…vendu”, but last sentence suggests another meaning, to the effect that, if you have waited long enough, you appreciate even a puid.

  2. The appearance of “gummed” reminded me that, for a time, my family had a different verb for that action. My father and his brothers, then my brothers and I, for a while all believed that the word was “gub.” Apparently this originated at some point in the past as a mishearing of “gum,” but unlike most misheard words, it persisted in the family for at least half a century. I have not pressed my still-living grandmother on what she thinks the correct word is, so I don’t actually know with which generation the error originated, but it cannot have been later than the 1950s, and it was only around 2000 that my brothers and I figured out that nobody else outside the family had the word.

  3. I’m reminded of German Cinderella – Aschenputtel – and wondering if there’s possibly some connection.

    there’s a lot about being dirty, digging, splashing in sand & puddles … but I dunno. Maybe these are all just a few coincidentally similar onomatopoeias.

    last minute update … all these words might also => “poodle”!!!!!?

  4. A Cinderella map, posted a few days ago.

  5. The Eelpout Festival has been struggling these last few years, in part due to climate shift, and of course the pandemic. What thrilled people during its heyday was the slime involved, plus the way they curled up upon removal from the water. Here is the Wikipedia entry.

  6. Trond Engen says

    We touch on Norw. dial. paut- and relatives in the URCHIN thread.

  7. Rodger C says

    An Appalachian version of Cinderella calls her “Ashpet.”

  8. Interesting! I wonder where that “pet” is from?

  9. Trond, AG – the Scottish National Dictionary has an entry for ASSIEPATTLE, according to an 1898 source ‘still in common use, applied occasionally as a term of contempt to any of the young domestic animals, such as pigs, kittens, etc., which are often found lying at the fireside in a country house’). ‘Second element … prob. from O.N. *patla; Mod.Norse pota, to poke. Cf. also Ger. aschenputtel, a Cinderella, from O.Ger. putteln, to shake to and fro, to root up (Whitney Ger. Dict.). Cf. Dan. askepot with same meaning.’

    Probably unrelated, but I remember as a child catching podleys, which are baby saithe or pollock, off the end of the pier at St Andrews in Scotland. They didn’t look froglike.

    SND says ‘O.Sc. podlo, id., 1525, podly, 1684, reduced forms of podlo(c)k, 1502, phs. an early form of Eng. pollack. Cf. haddie = haddock, etc.’ (which is no help with the pod- or podl-). Names of fish!

  10. And the OED (updated September 2006) tells me pollack is “Of unknown origin.”

    Names of fish: 2005, 2013 (among many others).

  11. Trond Engen says

    Norw. Askepott means “ash-pot”. That’s as simple as it gets. But I don’t know if the name is attested before the translation of Grimm’s Fairytales. The form of the fairytale told in Asbjørnsen og Moe’s NORSKE FOLKEEVENTYR is Kari Trestakk “Katie Woodskirt”, but here we also incorporate Snow white and since the female protagonist is a princess who is mistreated by her stepmother and flee.

    The ash-motive is only attested with the male protagonist Askeladden (in A&Ms prudish reproduction — actually told versions had Oskefisen “the ash fart” or similar), who is typically the youngest of three sons of a poor man, but by wit and cunning he succeeds where his older brothers failed before him. When the three brothers leave home to try their luck with the king’s daughter, Askeladden’s brothers laugh and say he’ll fail since he spends his time around the fireplace with the women instead of doing real work. But keeping the fire burning and collecting the ash at night was important work in a household. It’s just that it was the right task for the youngest boy. These fairytales were told as comfort for those younger sons and as a warning for their older brothers.

    But back to pVtl-. There’s a verb putle/pusle (= Eng. ‘puzzle’) “work slowly and carefully with small things”, which is what Askeladden does with the cinders, and pusul/pusli m. “someone working with small things”, attested in rural dialects by early lexicographers. A still current word is pusling m. “small and weak person”. It hadn’t occured to me before that these are related by direct derivation and that a pusling is someone who is only fit for that kind of work. I might suggest that in the attested versions of the tale(s), Askepusl(ing)en has been renamed with synonymous elements like -fisen “the little fart”, -ladden “the litte man” and -pilten “the litte boy” etc. In a female version of the tale, the name of the heroine would naturally be the same, with only the minimum modifications for feminine gender, but that is not known from Norway.

  12. The Grimms list about a dozen German variations on the name Aschenputtel: Askenpüster, Askenböel, Askenbüel (Low German), Aschenpöselken, Sudelsödelken (Holstein), Aschpuck (Pommern), Aschenpuddel (Oberhessen), Aschenbrödel, Äscherling (Oberdeutsch), Aschengrittel, Aschengruttel, Äschengrusel (Schwaben).
    Aschenbrödel was the only form I was familiar with as a child, despite growing up far away from any speaker of Oberdeutsch.

  13. but here we also incorporate Snow white and since the female protagonist is a princess who is mistreated by her stepmother and flee.

    Trond: Something missing there?

  14. Trond Engen says

    Yes, I misedited. I’m obviously commenting on more than I have time to. I first wrote “‘incorporates Snow white’ and ‘The disguised princesd” and “flee, and then introduces herself stealthily at the castle of a foreign prince”, but I decided to delete the latter reference since I couldn’t find the canonic title.

  15. Aschenbrödel was the only form I was familiar with as a child, despite growing up far away from any speaker of Oberdeutsch
    I assume due to the film Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel?

  16. Trond Engen says

    The typos are unusually frequent today. It underlines the message.

  17. I assume due to the film Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel?
    No. By that time I was already a mildly rebellious teenager.

  18. Stu Clayton says
  19. I must admit that, although it has become kind of a German tradition to watch that film during the Christmas holidays, I never watched it.
    But regardless of that, may she rest in peace.

  20. Stu Clayton says

    It’s a sweet film I’ve watched a couple of times over the decades. Unfortunately, the main musical theme is an Ohrwurm that can threaten your sanity.

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