Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When to Her Lute Corinna Sings

That's the lovely tetrameter line (by Thomas Campion) I've been repeating all day, after my morning flashcard session. I found out I can hold index cards against the steering wheel while I commute, and peep down for momentary GRE tidbits-- long enough to see a word or two of information. Recite the rest from memory.

Not poems, mind you. Little bits of info. Who Grendel was. What Sir Russell ate. The Kings and Queens of England, and the poets who flattered them (or seemed to flatter them, meanwhile secretly waylaying them with insults). I don't think I'd personally ever write a sonnet (ironic or otherwise) for our own dignitary, Mr. President Obama-- at least, not in his current, cool-headed temperament. If he were more like the Kings and Queens of England, regularly dismembering his subjects (i.e. potentially me and mine), I suppose I might. Something jazzy.

I never intended to make language my field. To, um, plow those rows. To hoe those fertile sentences, to harvest a bumpercrop of meaning. Drop the metaphor, Justin.

But there, unwilling to let it drop, stands Piers Plowman, of William Langland's "dream vision" fame. He's standing before a field of folk. He sees a multitude of people spread across England's bonny landscape, like ripened ears of corn. People and their lively discourses, undifferentiated, up from the pungent soil. Unsure of how to go about this unique bit of farming, how to see through the rangy, spreading discourse to the people it covers. If that's possible. Whether people and language are the same thing, almost. Organically intertwined, he thinks. Leaning on the hoe, thinking. Till suddenly, there comes a tap on the shoulder: It's a man in a black hood, and not one of Chaucer's 29 merry pilgrims.

"I'll take it from here," he rasps, a gleaming sickle ready by his side.

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