Beauty will save the world.
--Solzhenitsyn

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Put on your scholar hats, please!

Anonymous portrait of a scholar or preacher
1529, public domain Wikimedia
Walters Art Museum

QUESTION:

Working on a novel set some centuries ago, and I'm trying to figure out if I made these lines up in imitation of certain seventeenth-century poets (who? Butler?), or whether it is, indeed, a seventeenth-century couplet, maybe something like the tetrameter Hudibras:

To find if woman owns a soul
Requires a lens and puissant thole.*

I might have made it up. Quite possibly I did.

Or it might be Hudibras. But I don't have time to read the whole thing and find out. Because it might be something else. Or me.

But does it seem familiar to anybody?

Who knows? You would think that I would know, but I don't. Alas. I'm good at making up things but not always good at storage!

Picture: see caption. Wrong century, great hat...

*Ooops, I hate autocorrect! THOLE, autocorrect, THOLE!

19 comments:

  1. It's not Hudibras. Happily, Project Gutenberg makes it available in full text, which is easily searchable. After three minutes work (whew!) I can tell you that there is no instance in it of "thole", and though "soul" is used dozens of times, Butler seems more concerned with men's souls than women's. Some nifty rhymes, though. I should read the whole thing; it looks full of forward-moving rhythms, too, bouncing along like a perpetual motion machine.

    I had to look up thole. I like your couplet.

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    1. One of my cousins pointed out that I could search a .pdf. I didn't know that was a thing, somehow! Thank you. Now I don't have to figure it out until next time...

      I did find a puissant in Hudibras via Google Books. I expect Butler may have thought women did not possess souls. Plenty of people thought that, back then, though not the godly aka Puritans.

      Might be a good exercise for your budding poetry powers to translate a bit of that into some contemporary iambic pentameter!

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  2. Good hat but ugly hands! Hope the painter had another job.

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    1. Hands are quite a test of skill. Odd placement of the pinkie--the hands seem to say something about the importance of the book, so carefully touching it in various ways.

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  3. The OED gives two main senses of thole: adjectival or substantial, as in "thole pin", the fulcrum of an oar, or simply a wooden peg; and as a verb with "endure" as roughly the central meaning. There is also thole as a variant of "tholus", a round hut, mentioned in passing as archaic.

    I suppose a hut could be thought puissant, but how could it help in research? I can imagine a writer of light or satiric verse making a noun of the verb, in which case "puissant thole" might mean "tough endurance". Still, I suspect that the quotation is either altered in memory or invented,.

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    1. I read "puissant thole" as something like "mighty forbearance." And that's close to your "tough endurance."

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  4. My mother used "thoil" I wonder if the two words were related. As in "I couldn't thoil to spend so much" Meaning: I couldn't bring myself to...

    Knights were typically puissant, as in Milton. Powerful, of course, but with a soupcon of grace I always thought.

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    1. Where was she from? Interesting!

      Yes, Hudibras has a puissant sword somewhere... And I've seen it elsewhere as well with knights.

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    2. One of my stepmother's grandmothers was Irish born, and used "thole" to mean endure. I first heard of it in John Crowe Ransom's "Here Lies a Lady":

      Sweet ladies, long may ye last, and toughly I hope ye may thole...

      (I think that is the line.)

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    3. Oh, yes, Ransome and thole! Of course. Long may ye bloom? I dearly loved Ransom when I was young. That means I haven't read him in a long time! ACK.

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    4. My mother came from where I came from - Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire (now West Yorkshire). "Up North". She was, however, a published poet.

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    5. George, thanks!

      The alliterative Roderick Robinson: You are published poet also... "West Riding" sounds wholly Tolkienesque. You sent me one of your mother's poems a while back. Was writing a good bond between you?

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  5. I took "a lens and a puissant thole" to mean something like "a careful and penetrating gaze and a strong hand on the rudder so as not to be beguiled". Because woman, you know, is The Temptress, etc.

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  6. Drat! They ate my comments.

    I think that works too. "Thole" has some wiggle-room in meaning. Yes, woman as temptress. Women in this novel are made to remember Eve!

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  7. For what it's worth, Seamus Heaney heard his elders use the word "thole" frequently in northern Ireland, and he said it was one of the words that gave him an "in" to Old English when he decided to translate Beowulf.

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    1. Oh, I like that!

      So many fascinating words have been lost in the past. We ought to have a bring-words-back effort and sneak them back into blog posts and articles and ordinary speech...

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    2. One of my favorite Old English words, which I believe is used only once in the OE poetic corpus, is "uhtcearu," which means "anxiety or grief in the period just before dawn." Modern life demands just such a word.

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    3. That's useful. The other morning I woke up dreaming about my own worthlessness--surely that is a springing up of uhtcearu!

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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.