Up from under the famous snow…

… but in my case the significant snow has not been literal.

And by the way, the most ancient root of “fame,” which is one of the most important ideas in the ancient world, and the one that guaranteed the role of poets, is the Proto-Indo-European bha-, “to speak”  Thus, to speak in a particularly strong way—promising to sustain the name of the great warrior or chieftain after his death, and in fact fulfilling this promise, here and there; or—working in the opposite direction—cursing his enemies.  The root is in The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, ed. by Calvert Watkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (and the major source for that dictionary can be found on line, as for example at the Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, at http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/ielex/PokornyMaster-X.html).

My delay in returning to this blog about poetry has simply been the result of being at work on other things, which, if they are what I’m trying to write, precipitate (or not) with their own impulse or rhythm; and if they are professional responsibilities, then they are like a herd of (prehistoric) sheep that need to be sheared, one each day, forever.  (Eventually I hope to get to the subject of weaving another sort of metaphorical wool—language.)

Lately I have gotten back to work on what I hope will be the last few in my long-gestating group of essays on poetic thinking.  One is on choral thinking, and I now realize that have been working on it, or at least thinking about it, ever since the mid-1980s.  The other is still looking for its path, but it has been turning up some things that I find very interesting—or I should say, compelling—to think about.  Here’s a passage from David W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press, 2007).  The names in bold, preceded by an asterisk, have been reconstructed by analysis of their derivatives in other, later, languages.

At the beginning of time there were two brothers, twins, one named Man (*Manu, in Proto-Indo-European) and the other Twin (*Yemo). They traveled through the cosmos accompanied by a great cow. Eventually Man and Twin decided to create the world we now inhabit. To do this, Man had to sacrifice Twin (or, in some versions, the cow). From the parts of this sacrificed body, with the help of the sky gods (Sky Father, Storm God of War, Divine Twins), Man made the wind, the sun, the moon, the sea, earth, fire, and finally all the various kinds of people. Man became the first priest, the creator of the ritual of sacrifice that was the root of world order.

After the world was made, the sky-gods gave cattle to “Third man” (*Trito). But the cattle were treacherously stolen by a three-headed, six-eyed serpent (*Ngwhi, the Proto-Indo-European root for negation). Third man entreated the storm god to help get the cattle back. Together they went to the cave (or mountain) of the monster, killed it (or the storm god killed it alone), and freed the cattle. *Trito became the first warrior. He recovered the wealth of the people, and his gift of cattle to the priests insured that the sky gods received their share in the rising smoke of sacrificial fires. This insured that the cycle of giving between gods and humans continued. (134)


In his note to these paragraphs, Anthony adds:

The three sky gods named here almost certainly can be ascribed to Proto-Indo-European. Dyeus Pater, or the Sky/Heaven Father, is the most certain. The Thunder/War god was named differently in different dialects but in each branch was associated with the thunderbolt, the hammer or club, and war. The Divine Twins likewise were named differently in the different branches—the Nâsatyas in Indic, Kastôr and Polydeukês in Greek, and the Dieva Dêli in Baltic. They were associated with good luck, and often were represented as twin horses, the offspring of a divine mare. (479 n.1)

(Dyeus Pater —the name of a father sky god—is the root of Greek “Zeus” and Roman “Jupiter.”)

In this essay-in-progress (and in another), I’m trying to think my way into the ancientness of aspects of poetic craft that have scarcely changed.  Some of what I’m reading is about language, and about poetry and studies of poetry, so it inevitably leads me back to the world of the earliest known (or rather unknown) poetry in the language family to which English belongs.  That is, the small word list that has turned out to be inconceivably generative, over the last three or four millennia.  Anthony is briefly summarizing what can be known about the core mythology of the speakers of what we call Proto-Indo-European (which was spoken, and then superseded by its daughter languages, so long before there was writing, that even the last speakers of PIE have left us no written utterance, although happily they left linguistic traces that are still apparent in later languages).

I’ll post more about this, as I go.  And I intend to post on poetic rhythm and meter; on more instances of the variety of ways in which poems think; on translating poetry; and other topics.

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