Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Joyous path--

Courtesy of sxc.hu and Rodrigo Lozano of Brazil
Old English Wordhord ‏@OEWordhord #OldEnglish #WOTD: gomenwāðu, f.n: a joyous path. (from twitter)
One of my favorite things about the internet is coming upon small, startling facts left like Hansel-pebbles in the woods. (My least favorite thing is, naturellement, the general addiction of everybody and the much-discussed decline in book-reading.) It's amazing that one (this very one, long ago) can spend a year tangling with Anglo-Saxon and not remember a marvelous nugget like this. A mind-nugget. A thought-pebble. Perhaps we should bring back some of these wonderful words. Here's the Bosworth-Toller (Anglo-Saxon dictionary) entry example for gomenwāðu (n; f):
Gewiton ealdgesíþas of gomenwaðe the old comrades departed from the joyous path,
Gomen is an interesting word for joy with, as far as my limited understanding goes, touches of the jubilant, jocund, mirthful, and sometimes pleasure in games and sports about it. While noodling about in the Anglo-Saxon dictionary, I also stumbled on the also-happy gamen-wudu, which Bosworth-Toller defines as "pleasure-wood, glee-wood, a musical instrument, harp." Isn't that a wondrous kenning for a musical instrument?

The not-unflawed but often interesting Wikipedia tells us that kenning as a term for a literary trope in modern English did not come into usage until the nineteenth century, being borrowed from the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson and other treatises, "and derives ultimately from the Old Norse verb kenna 'know, recognise; perceive, feel; show; teach; etc.', as used in the expression kenna við 'to name after; to express [one thing] in terms of [another]', “name after; refer to in terms of”, and kenna til “qualify by, make into a kenning by adding.” So a compound like gamen + wudu is a kind of circumlocution meant to make us know a thing more strongly, to perceive a thing more nearly, and to makes us ken what we did not--gamen-wudu gives us the concept of harp mingled with a consciousness of its source in a tree and its identity as a thing that gives glee and pleasure. In one word is packed much, as in a small poem that radiates in many directions.

So may you dance along the gomenwāðu, lovely notes of the gamen-wudu accompanying you... They might be notes from a distant harp, or they might be the song of a breeze combed by branches and leaves. What would that be? In old English kennings, the wind is a tree breaker, but maybe this one could just be a wind-comb, sweeping and singing below the bright heofon-candel.

4 comments:

  1. "So may you dance along the gomenwāðu, lovely notes of the gamen-wudu accompanying you..." And 'tis a beautiful cure for the megrims to be sure. And -- in my case -- just what the doctor ordered.

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    1. Then enjoy, Tim! You can take this one as especially for you... :)

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  2. And what a gorgeous photograph to accompany it, no doubt touched by photo-magic, appropriately.

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    1. Hi Robbi. Somewhere in Brazil is the fellow who took it! Hope he finds your compliment...

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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.