Sunday, July 17, 2005

Poetry Break: Don't Read This!

Stop now, or you'll read to the end . . . and perhaps be offended by my linguistic offense.

Last chance. Stop.

Too late. Might as well continue.

My friend Bill Vallicella concerns himself with words and their distinctions, such as the difference between "where" and "whence," but also suggests that he's not so extreme as that underground grammarian Richard Mitchell.

Mitchell -- who, by the way, is now literally underground -- held a low opinion of poetry, considering it "a little worse than shoplifting," so he'd probably call the police on me if he were still around. But as one of the "unacknowledged legislators" of the world, I can revoke old laws and pass new ones, so no formal structure, no "prison-house of language," would hold me for long.

I now commit my crime of indifference:

Semantic Drift

"Wood" now no longer sounds crazy,
While "stout" only scarcely seems strong;
"Foul" connotes nothing of lazy,
And "sin" suggests nothing much wrong.

Words molt old meanings like feathers,
Make speaking a spiel of dumb luck,
Bring us all to the ends of our tethers,
Leave us all without giving a f**k.

Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1993


At 2:15 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

To paraphrase Hui Neng, Sixth Patriarch of Zen:

never there a wisdom-tree
never there a mirror stand
what, at bottom, does exist?
where can meaning hope to land?


At 7:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Vallicella himself needs to respond to this, but I suppose that he would say that meaning is an extra-mental -- and therefore extra-linguistic -- statement with proposition-like structure.

Or somesuch. I'm not much good at philosophy.

Perhaps Vallicella will show up here to set things straight.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

P.S. Anyone re-reading this will notice that I've bowdlerized my own poem.


Not because I think that there's anything inherently wrong with the word.

Rather, I make it a principle not to use such language in polite company, and I'm trying to keep my blog relatively polite.

So, upon reflection . . .

But the etymological link remains for reasons of scholarship.


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