Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wee vacation to The Purple Island

Last night I went to choir practice and discovered that I can sing again, albeit with occasional coughing bouts. But I felt laid low and slumped into bed afterward. Then I wrote two posts this morning and deleted them both out of boredom with myself and the subjects, one about the teetering status of the in-residence 4-year college education and what that might mean for writers in academia, and the other was--well, who cares what that one was about! Afterward, for some mad reason I remembered and felt impelled to reread a few parts of The Purple Island by Phineas Fletcher, a 1633 long poem about the human body. I first read it an astonishing number of years ago: better not to consider! Fletcher was an influence for Milton.

Here is a rather absurd sample:

    The Urine-lake drinking his colour’d brook,
By little swells, and fills his stretching sides:
But when the stream the brink ‘gins over-look, 
A sturdy groom empties the swelling tides;
    Sphincter some call; who if he loosed be,
    Or stiffe with cold, out flows the senselesse sea, 
And rushing unawares covers the drowned lea.

Here's a better fragment (Canto 7, stanzas 10-11), and one that lets one see why Milton liked and was influenced by him:

When that great Lord his standing Court would build, 
The outward walls with gemmes and glorious lights, 
But inward rooms with nobler Courtiers fill’d; 
Pure, living flames, swift, mighty, blessed sprites: 
      But some his royall service (fools!) disdain; 
      So down were flung: (oft blisse is double pain) 
In heav’n they scorn’d to serve, so now in hell they reigne. 

There turn’d to serpents, slown with pride and hate, 
Their Prince a Dragon fell, who burst with spight 
To see this Kings and Queens yet happy state, 
Tempts them to lust and pride, prevails by slight: 
      To make them wise, and gods he undertakes. 
      Thus while the snake they heare, they turn to snakes; 
To make them gods he boasts, but beasts, and devils makes. 

I'm not sure about the "slown." Transcription error in the online copy? "Sown?" "Slow?" "Slown" is not in the O. E. D.

5 comments:

  1. Slown (Slowed down). I have seen this many times, and what a wonderful word it is to be sure! Gosh... I even use it sometimes!

    Milton - I should reread. He is a favorite for me, but Fletcher I have not read at all, really.
    Clearly I should read him, Marly!

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  2. "The Purple Island" is on line. I read it in my 20's, long ago. If you read it, tell me what you think! It's quite long...

    That makes sense to me--I thought it must be "slowed by" but was surprised to find that, according to the O. E. D., there's no such word. Perhaps it was in there under "slow," and I missed it.

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  3. Ack, Paul, so you found it in the OED! Can you tell me where, exactly? Shall answer note later--must run to Nate's school.

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  4. It is shown to have been in use here, Marly - although it does not have an inclusion in the O E D that I am aware of...

    http://public.oed.com/?post_type=page&s=slown

    I sometimes use it (horribly archaic, I know) in sentences like, "The traffic was slown down due to an accident". I never really thought about the word use before!

    Usage can also be found here

    http://www.wordnik.com/words/slown

    I believe it is a word that never quite made it (!) but I would have read this in my teens - a time when I was reading the classics more. It just stuck!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.