Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Interlace Poem

Regular readers (and those who know me in real life) probably know that I am still somewhat active as an academic. For the past few months, I've been putting the finishing touches (I hope) on my fifth academic book, which I've begun to call "my last academic book," for whatever that's worth.

When asked what the book is about, I usually describe it as being about textual dimensions, even while I recognize that such a description probably doesn't communicate much of anything to anyone.
Agnes D Garbey's Interlace Poem, dated June 9, 1855. 

But it was a delight to be able to purchase this piece of manuscript poetry recently. It brings together, quite remarkably, many of the topics that have been occupying my mind as I've been writing this book. (And I recognize that the image is probably not legible here: the original is written in very tiny script--the whole thing is about 7" tall from top to bottom--and I need a magnifying glass to read the actual page itself).

It is, I think it is fair to say, a puzzle-poem, with the first "lines" reading "Begin and see if thou canst shew/ the starting point and place of ending too." The design, I think, can usefully be described as an interlace design--the single ongoing linear text of the poem wrapping around, with numerous crossing points and tricky turning points.

Such interlace designs were common in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts (and elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon art), and a well known critical essay by John Leyerle even concerns itself with "The Interlace Structure of Beowulf." It is difficult to tell if Agnes D. Garbey (if I am reading her name correctly) had Anglo-Saxon models in mind, but the interlace effect of her poem could not be more obvious. And the poem's use of the phrase "The endless knot" will also recall Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for readers who know that poem well. We will probably never know for certain if medieval models have influenced this poem, but it is possible that they did: the middle nineteenth century was, if possible, even more fascinated with all things medieval than we are today.

In terms of the book I've been working on, this poem is a two-dimensional text: any attempt (such as the one I will offer below), to linearize it, to re-present it in a single textual line, without crossovers or overlap, will diminish the poem and its effect upon readers. Too often, we suppose that a poem can be read aloud, and maybe even that a poem should be read aloud. This poem, on the other hand, must be seen to be appreciated. 

The argument of the book I am writing, of course, is that we have long ignored or misunderstood two-dimensional and three-dimensional aspects of some literary texts, though manuscripts in particular have often enough made use of more than a single linear dimension. Agnes Garbey's poem, here, is a reminder that even as recently as the nineteenth century, manuscripts might make use of complex visual structures in ways that deserve our attention and respect. 

I don't know if I'll be able to use this poem in the book itself. I am tempted, though, to offer it up as a possible image for the cover--if only it were a bit more legible!


Begin and see if thou canst shew
The starting point and place of ending too;
Oh! mortal behold and thou shalt see,
The endless knot Love's twined for thee.
But like this knot a point of winding
And like this knot Love has no ending.
Is love like a moat that lives but a day,
On the beams of the sun and vanishes away?
Or like the flower that blooms at the morn
At noon of its beauty and lasciviousness shorn?
No, true love may [be] likened to the beautiful rose,
That from its leaves sweetest fragrance throws.
It buds, it blooms and dies, its presence is done,
Yet sweetness remains though the body is gone.
Oh! What wants life be de[ . . . ]ed of true love
Of heaven's cheering beams from our Father above;
A dark howling wilderness. --thick gathering gloom,
Spreading o'er our sad journey to the place of the tomb.
June 9th 1855                       Agnes D Garbey.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fromkin and Rodman Phonetics Wheel

F&R Phonetics Wheel [1988]
Things have been thrown off their normal (already irregular) schedule here at Chancery Hill Books by a death in the family: my mother-in-law, a wonderful person who was herself a retired English professor.
The reverse of the Phonetics Wheel.

Many was the time Joyce and I chatted about having taught the Introduction to the English Language course at our respective institutions, and we both often used the venerable Fromkin and Rodman textbook for the course (An Introduction to Language; more recent editions have included additional co-authors, but I am afraid the book remains 'Fromkin and Rodman' in my heart).

We recently found, tucked in among Joyce's books and papers, the Fromkin and Rodman Phonetics Wheel that I've pictured here. It is, obviously, a volvelle, of the common everyday sort I've written about here before

Such little volvelles were, of course, unbelievably common in the twentieth century: verb wheels will, no doubt, be familiar to many who studied a foreign language in the middle of the twentieth century, but many simple calculations or collections of tabulated material were formatted into volvelles for promotional or advertising purposes during that time. I'd guess that some are probably still being produced, somewhere out there.

This Fromkin and Rodman Phonetics Wheel, of course, was also a promotional item: a giveaway, surely, intended to help persuade teachers to adopt the Fourth Edition of Fromkin and Rodman as a textbook for their classes to buy. 

Such items are ephemeral, and it is surprising when they survive at all. In the case of this example, a Google search on the phrase "Phonetics Wheel" turns up hardly anything at all, though one link may refer to a wheel like this one. 

This one, of course, can stay, for now, in my own little collection.