“Many a phrase has the English language” (F333A, J276)

Many a phrase has the
English language –
I have heard but one –
Low as the laughter of the
Loud, as the Thunder’s Tongue –

Murmuring, like old Caspian
When the Tide’s a’lull –
Saying itself in new inflection –
Like a Whippowil –

Breaking in bright Orthogra–
On my simple sleep –
Thundering it’s Prospective –
Till I – stir, and weep – (Grope –  start)

Not for the Sorrow, done me –
But the – push of Joy – (Pain of joy)
Say it again, Saxon!
Hush – Only to me!

Link to EDA manuscript. Packet XIV, Mixed Fasciles, ca. 1860-1862. First published in Unpublished Poems (1935), 89, with the alternatives not adopted. Courtesy Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

This is the twenty-fourth poem in the fascicle, and we seem to be in the aftermath of a startling event, somewhat distant from the bitter agony of some of the earlier poems in the group. This is a riddling poem about the power of language and hearing it spoken: what is the phrase, spoken to the speaker that has such various and lush timbres? Caspian, according to the Lexicon, is “the largest lake in the world … located in northern Iran.” The “Whippowil” appears in the second poem in the fascicle. “Saxon” refers to the “Germanic tribe that conquered the Celts in Britain” and stands for the English language. There is something delicious in the secret whispered only to the speaker, but it is characteristically ambivalent: the speaker is moved, haunted, awakened and weeps not for sorrow but “for the push/pain of joy.”

Sources                Back to Index of Poems for Jan 22-28.                Next Poem