Skip to main content

Very Rich and Dishevelled


 

‘Always rich and dishevelled, it (English) is fast becoming very rich and dishevelled.’
William Empson (Seven Types of Ambiguity p 236).

Dishevelled – what a wonderful word!  It’s one of those pleasant-sounding English words we all use from time to time, readily understood and unquestioned, which refers to an absence, disruption or diminution of a quality described by a never-, or hardly ever, heard adjective.  I mean, have you ever found something hevelled, appointing, traught or even ruptive?  And as for combobulated...

I was reminded of the richness of our language when reading an interview with the admirable Judith Kerr, who's just died.  I've admired her and her books for a long time, thanks yet again to my children for introducing me to someone I wouldn't otherwise have known.  Surely one of the most shevelled of people and fluent in three languages, she was comparing French and English, the former distinguished by its precision, the latter by its wealth of synonyms – well, its richness.  She also contrasted the brevity of French with ‘endless sentences in German.’

Our sentences – mine, to be sure – can go on a bit.  Or be very short.  But we can say something in so many different ways, sometimes clearer than others, which can mean different things, to different people, at different times.  Which brings me back to Empson’s ambiguities.

I found that book difficult, understanding parts for a while and then losing the plot, finding myself presently unable to recall all seven with any clarity.  In another interview, Judith Kerr told the story of Einstein, a family friend, explaining the theory of relativity to her mother, who said she totally understood it at the time, only couldn’t remember it afterwards.

Well, ambiguity is about more than one meaning, if not frank inexactness.
Oh yes, the First Ambiguity was the simple (do I mean that?) metaphor.  And I seem to remember that if you build a story on a metaphor, you create an allegory.  But I might have that wrong, as indeed might be the suggestion that the tiger who came to tea was actually Hitler.

No apologies then for such unkempt thoughts, if not ramblings, which might even be the richer for not being brushed neatly into place.  Dishevelled: from the old French deschevele, the hair being uncombed, it gives an untidy appearance.

Feeling ignorant and foolish, I’ve just googled those seven, and warm to the sixth, which is ‘when a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author.’

Here’s a very short dishevelled poem playing with words – words that aren’t for the most part mine, words unsure of their own meaning and words which could do with a sound brushing.
I wish I could draw like Judith Kerr did, let alone speak three languages fluently.  But it’s good to be reminded of what we do have, in English.


Very rich and dishevelled
not poor at all
we’ve never been hevelled
rather rich as a dish-
evelled. Deliver
us from evell,
may we ever stay evel
I think I meant level
for ever and ever
Amen. Sorry
our men? We shall be rich
very rich and dishevelled
always English
not poor at all
and fast becoming…

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead.
I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse.

Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting
as they cropped up tone of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

It took a little while for me to realise why.
Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow.

The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur.

Here's my second verse:

At first it was the one-armed monsters,
set free within their caged arena
to trundle round, and gently paw
the ground, then pile up mounds of earth
accompanied by Lego men.

I was pleased with my trope, so muc…

The Cadence

He embraces the sheep
an ungainly bundle unusually tilted
now leaning back against the man
who bowed over, grasps with his knees
and left hand, to perform. Like a cellist

he knows how to play.
Fingertips splayed to tension the skin
right hand guiding across the bridge
a gleam of blades to separate fleece –
music from silence, wrapped up in wool.

The animal listens
accepting the prospect of resolution ahead,
resigned to his practised hands, grip of the thighs
the charm of the music
and caressing of steel.

He stretches his arm out
to reach high notes in third position.
Lanolined leather feet shift softly beneath.
The sheep tips back more to enable the soar
of melody heard only by them.

He lets fall the burden
accustomedly righting the sheep. He arises
to bow for a moment as if in acknowledgement
then straightens – the fleece being lifted
and folded, like music.

The performer resumes
with no pause for applause. He turns
to the next – there are more
many more waiting. So the music contin…

Viral Information

Viral Information




Virus - a word much heard not just at this time of year ('there's a lot of them about') but one that's spilled quasi-metaphorically into other non-biological areas, you might say succeeding virulently... gone viral?

 But that's what viruses do, and do very well.
Fulfilling only some of the criteria for qualifying for life status, here are strange creatures indeed, not that that's the right word at all - not organism, more construction, set of instructions or even just a programme.  So the use of the word in computer malfunction is hardly metaphorical...
Approaching this extraordinary - but so frequently encountered, so in a way not extraordinary at all -  thing (I find myself reduced to using this rather weak word) that may be represented in (admittedly astronomically colossal) sequences of numbers, with words - all that poetry possesses, however they may be presented - poses problems. 
So I thought I'd turn to a different sort of poetry: …