Sep. 27, 2008

Smoke and Ash

by David Budbill

I spend every fall out in the woods, felling trees, cutting their trunks
and branches into blocks, splitting and stacking the blocks in neat rows.
I cover the wood with old metal roofing and let it sit for a year or so.
Then back to the woods with a tractor and wagon. Load the wood
into the wagon, haul it back to the woodshed, toss it in and stack it again.

All through the fall, winter and spring I carry the wood by the armload
into the house, and stack it again in the woodbox next to the big, old
Round Oak stove. In it goes, fire after fire, day after day, month after
month. All the while I shovel the ashes into a galvanized coal scuttle,
haul them out to the garden, and scatter them over the snow.

After all that work!
A bucket of ash
and smoke
into the air.

"Smoke and Ash" by David Budbill from While We've Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of the current Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan, (books by this author) born in San Jose, California (1945).

It's the birthday of the American revolutionary leader and propagandist Samuel Adams, born in Boston (1722). He was among the first Americans who denied the rule of the British over the Colonies and advocated independence.

It's the birthday of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss, (books by this author) born in Lawrence, New York (1917), who is known for his novels about the New York City and its uppercrust in Portrait in Brownstone (1962), A World of Profit (1968), and Diary of a Yuppie (1986).

It's the birthday of poet and critic Sir William Empson, (books by this author) born in East Yorkshire, England (1906), who wrote about how great literature makes us think and feel conflicting things at the same time. He wrote, "All those large dreams by which men long live well / Are magic-lanterned on the smoke of hell."

This week, we continue to celebrate the anniversary of the Norman invasion of 1066. It was this week in 1066 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. 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.

A plethora of words surrounding pleasure and pastime come to us by way of French, including the word pleasure itself, from Old French plaisir, "to please." Delight, too, is derived from Old French delitier, "to charm, allure, please." Later, in English, the verb took on the function of a noun as well. It's the basis for the word "delicate" as well as a bounty of food-related words, including the delicacy you might purchase at a deli and find to be delectable, in which case you'd cry out, "Oh, this is delicious!"

Delight is often associated with joy, another word entering Middle English from Old French. The French joie was based on the Latin verb "to rejoice." A person who jumps up and down with joy and then starts to dance is performing an action we describe with yet another English word that came in through French. The Old French verb is dancer, and it came from a Germanic root that meant "to stretch."

To act at leisure or to dally — these are also words we get from the French. Old French leisir was based on Latin licere, "be allowed" — and is the basis for the word license as well. The Old French word dalier meant "to chat" and was a word used commonly in Anglo-Norman in the years just after the invasion, when a sort of bilingual society existed — with nobles chatting in French and common folk in English. The word dalliance actually started out in English meaning "conversation" but has since come to take on the meaning of "amorous flirtation."

Music and sport also derive from French. In Middle English, sport meant broadly "hobby" or "entertainment"; it came from the French word disport. English music is from Old French musique via Latin from Greek for the "art of the Muses." The root is also the basis for amuse, bemuse, mosaic, and museum.

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




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