Saturday

Sep. 22, 2012

A Pot of Red Lentils

by Peter Pereira

simmers on the kitchen stove.
All afternoon dense kernels
surrender to the fertile
juices, their tender bellies
swelling with delight.

In the yard we plant
rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes,
cupping wet earth over tubers,
our labor the germ
of later sustenance and renewal.

Across the field the sound of a baby crying
as we carry in the last carrots,
whorls of butter lettuce,
a basket of red potatoes.

I want to remember us this way—
late September sun streaming through
the window, bread loaves and golden
bunches of grapes on the table,
spoonfuls of hot soup rising
to our lips, filling us
with what endures.

"A Pot of Red Lentils" by Peter Pereira, from Saying the World. © Copper Canyon Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today marks the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of fall and the point in which the Sun is directly above the equator and the hours of day and night are nearly equal. It occurs at precisely 10:49 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time. In the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.

As poet Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt wrote: "It is the summer's great last heat, / It is the fall's first chill: they meet."

It's the anniversary of the Norman Conquest of 1066. It was this week that William the Conqueror of Normandy first arrived on British soil. The French-speaking Normans eventually defeated Old English-speaking Saxons at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066 — which had a larger and more pronounced effect on the development of the English language than any other event in history.

Norman French replaced the Germanic-based Anglo-Saxon as the official, administrative, and ceremonial language, and Anglo-Saxon was demoted to everyday, common use. The sturdy English cow, calf, and sheep on the hoof became French once they were on the plate: beef (from boeuf), veal (veel), and mutton (mouton). The word vellum, for a type of parchment made of calfskin, also comes from the French word for calf. In all, some 10,000 French words were adopted into the English language, and within the course of a few centuries, English went from being a strictly Germanic language to one infused with a large Latinate vocabulary, which came via French.

The Normans of course also imposed their ideas and practices of governing on their conquered English subjects, and our vocabulary still reflects a huge number of French-based words. Government is a word of French origin that came in during Middle English. The Old French word is governer from Latin "to steer" or "to rule."

For many years, English-speaking subjects took allegiance to the royal crown. Allegiance is a distinctly Anglo-Norman word — it's a variation of the Old French ligeance, from a Latin word describing foreign serfs who were allowed to settle on Roman land and till the soil.

Subject, no surprise, was a word introduced by the Norman invaders, and when it first came into Middle English from Old French (sujet, "brought under"), the word meant "a person owing obedience."

Yet the conquered English subjects continued to swear allegiance to the king. The French-speaking Norman leader of the invaders, William the Conqueror, actually tried in his middle age to learn to speak English, the tongue of his newly conquered subjects. But from the invasion, English gained several synonyms of French origin that meant, essentially, kinglike or kingly. These include royal, regal, and sovereign. Royalty developed in the late Middle Ages to include a sense of "right to ownership" over minerals, which in the mid-1800s began to also apply to payment given by a mineral harvester to the person who owned the land from which the mineral came. Later, royalties applied to the sales of copyrighted materials.

From the Norman Conquest came the Anglo-Norman French word corune, from Old French coroner, ultimately from Greek for "circle, ring." It formed the basis not only of the kingly crown, but also of corolla — the inner ring of petals in a flower — and corollary, coronary, coronation, and coroner — who in Norman times, as an officer of the crown, was appointed to investigate any seemingly unnatural deaths of members of the ruling class.

Words from the Anglo-Norman legal system also form the primary basis for the vocabulary of our modern legal system. A defendant is summoned to court, from the Old French cort, from the Latin word for yard. If it's a civil affair, one might hope that all people "present at court" (the original meaning of courtier) will be courteous, which originally meant "having manners fit for a royal court." A complaint is filed by the plaintiff, from the Old French word plaintive — a "lamentation" — which is itself derived from a Latin word, planctus, meaning "beating of the breast."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »