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A Bit of Bondage (and Poetry)

A Bit of Bondage (and poetry)

I've been indulging in a bit of ligature this week. According to dictionary.com a ligature can be the act of binding or tying up, which is both the act of tying up and the cord used to action this. Sometimes, when writing poetry, you need to apply a ligature to staunch the emotional flow that is leaking from your pen or out of your fingers, not drowning the reader in a tidal wave of adjectives and adverbs. But that is not what this post is about.

As you will see in the definitions there are also musical ligatures, namely slurs. Now you can use your poetry to cast a subtle slur on a person or an organisation, and you can write melodious poems with the panache of a symphony orchestra or the wandering minstrelsy of a troubadour, but those are not what I want to talk about here either.

In surgery a ligature can be "a thread or wire for constriction of blood vessels or for removing tumours by strangulation." but if there is one thing I want to find in any poem it is air that lets the poem breathe, so I'm not going to talk about that either.

I want to talk about dictionary.com's definition number 5: in printing: a character or type combining two or more letters.

I started to think about this when I noticed, in last Saturday's Guardian (27 August 2016), that when the word encyclopædia appears it was spelled as it should be, as encyclopædia. It's one of those words that in modern usage seems to degenerate into, at best, encyclopaedia, and at worst encyclopedia; I suspect it has a lot to do with the ubiquitous Wikipedia which brainwashes readers into forgetting that there should be an 'a' in the encyclopaedic word, and more correctly the use of the ligature æ.

The letter features in numerous languages throughout the world. As Wikipedia helpfully relates, In Classical Latin, the combination AE denotes the diphthong [ai̯], which had a value similar to the long i in fine as pronounced in most dialects of Modern English. In the modern French alphabet, æ is used to spell Latin and Greek borrowings like tænia and ex æquo. There are examples of use in Scandinavian languages like Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian, which in the latter 2 cases æ is a individual letter of the alphabet which, in the Norwegian has 4 different pronunciations. Æ is also used in some South American languages.

What We Normally See

  • Medieval is now more common than mediaeval
  • Dæmon, in classical mythology, refers to the daemons of ancient Greece. It is also a fictional being in the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials. Daemons also turn up in computing where it is always written without the æ but with separate a and e. In computing, a daemon is a type of program that runs unobtrusively in the background, rather than under the direct control of a user, such as performing a task at a specific time or date, or when a file lands in a particular directory, or the receipt of an email (see daemon definition from linfo.org for more tech insights).
  • Anæsthetic, nowadays rendered as anaesthetic or anesthetic ">Anaesthetic — adjective (1) Inducing, referring to, or characterised by anaesthesia. (2) Characterised by a loss of sensation or awareness, which neatly sums up how modern language is developing — mind-numbing.
  • Æther in Greek mythology is The poetic personification of the clear upper air breathed by the Olympians.
  • Aesthetics again is typically written as aesthetics.
  • Cæsura, again usually rendered as caesura these days, is a pause in a line of poetry, usually a break between words within a metrical foot, usually in the third or fourth foot of the line. For example "I gaze like a madman upon the black shawl” (Pushkin). You may have noticed I quite like the idea of letting a poem breathe, so go forth and make wild with your cæsuras!

So how do you return to using æ where appropriate?

I often use the separate numeric keypad on my keyboard to enter symbols and letters. For the capital letter, Æ I hold the ALT key and keep it pressed with a left hand finger whilst using the keypad to type 0198 with a right hand finger, releasing each number as I press it but keeping that ALT key pressed down until after the last number. For the lower case æ I need to do the same thing, ALT key pressed down whilst pressing 0230 on the numeric keypad.

If you need to use html code for these letters, the codes are: for the capital Æ Æ and for the lower case æ it is æ (which you will note are the same except that the uppercase letter uses uppercase A and E whereas the lower case version uses lower case a and e. There is a bag of M&Ms prize for the first person to comment with the correct explanation of what the remaining letters in the HTML code represent) :)

Examples in Poetry

With thanks to the Poem Hunter website I am pasting in three poems that use the æ character, or its ae rendering in their titles. Each poem is linked back to the Poem Hunter website where you can find additional info on the poets as desired.

The Song Of Wandering Aengus - Poem by William Butler Yeats

 
I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
 
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
 
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
 
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
 
Though I am old with wandering 
Through hollow lands and hilly lands. 
I will find out where she has gone, 
And kiss her lips and take her hands; 

 
And walk among long dappled grass, 
And pluck till time and times are done 
The silver apples of the moon, 
The golden apples of the sun.  
 

Rumors From An Aeolian Harp - Poem by Henry David Thoreau

 
There is a vale which none hath seen, 
Where foot of man has never been,  
Such as here lives with toil and strife,  
An anxious and a sinful life.  
There every virtue has its birth,  
Ere it descends upon the earth, 

And thither every deed returns,  
Which in the generous bosom burns.  
 
There love is warm, and youth is young,  
And poetry is yet unsung.  
For Virtue still adventures there,  
And freely breathes her native air.  
 
And ever, if you hearken well,  
You still may hear its vesper bell,  
And tread of high-souled men go by,  
Their thoughts conversing with the sky.  
 

De Ægypto - Poem by Ezra Pound

 
I even I, am he who knoweth the roads 
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body. 
 
I have beheld the Lady of Life, 
I, even I, who fly with the swallows. 
 
Green and gray is her raiment, 
Trailing along the wind. 
 
I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads 
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body. 
 
Manus animam pinxit, 
My pen is in my hand 
 
To write the acceptable word. . . . 
My mouth to chant the pure singing! 
 
Who hath the mouth to receive it, 
The song of the Lotus of Kumi? 
 
I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads 
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body. 
 
I am flame that riseth in the sun, 
I, even I, who fly with the swallows. 
 
The moon is upon my forehead, 
The winds are under my lips. 
 
The moon is a great pearl in the waters of sapphire, 
Cool to my fingers the flowing waters. 
 
I, even I, am he who knoweth the roads 
Through the sky, and the wind thereof is my body. 
 

On The Disastrous Spread Of Aestheticism In All Classes - Poem by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

 
Impetuously I sprang from bed, 
Long before lunch was up, 
That I might drain the dizzy dew 
From the day's first golden cup. 
 
In swift devouring ecstasy 
Each toil in turn was done; 
I had done lying on the lawn 
Three minutes after one. 
 
For me, as Mr. Wordsworth says, 
The duties shine like stars; 
I formed my uncle's character, 
Decreasing his cigars. 
 
But could my kind engross me? No! 
Stern Art-what sons escape her? 
Soon I was drawing Gladstone's nose 
On scraps of blotting paper. 
 
Then on-to play one-fingered tunes 
Upon my aunt's piano. 
In short, I have a headlong soul, 
I much resemble Hanno. 
 
(Forgive the entrance of the not 
Too cogent Carthaginian. 
It may have been to make a rhyme; 
I lean to that opinion.) 
 
Then my great work of book research 
Till dusk I took in hand- 
The forming of a final, sound 
Opinion on The Strand. 
 
But when I quenched the midnight oil, 
And closed the Referee, 
Whose thirty volumes folio 
I take to bed with me, 
 
I had a rather funny dream, 
Intense, that is, and mystic; 
I dreamed that, with one leap and yell, 
The world became artistic. 
 
The Shopmen, when their souls were still, 
Declined to open shops- 
And Cooks recorded frames of mind 
In sad and subtle chops. 
 
The stars were weary of routine: 
The trees in the plantation 
Were growing every fruit at once, 
In search of sensation. 
 
The moon went for a moonlight stroll, 
And tried to be a bard, 
And gazed enraptured at itself: 
I left it trying hard. 
 
The sea had nothing but a mood 
Of 'vague ironic gloom,' 
With which t'explain its presence in 
My upstairs drawing-room. 
 
The sun had read a little book 
That struck him with a notion: 
He drowned himself and all his fires 
Deep in a hissing ocean. 
 
Then all was dark, lawless, and lost: 
I heard great devilish wings: 
I knew that Art had won, and snapt 
The Covenant of Things. 
 
I cried aloud, and I awoke, 
New labours in my head. 
I set my teeth, and manfully 
Began to lie in bed. 
 
Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, 
So I my life conduct. 
Each morning see some task begun, 
Each evening see it chucked. 
 
But still, in sudden moods of dusk, 
I hear those great weird wings, 
Feel vaguely thankful to the vast 
Stupidity of things. 
 
Envoi 
 
Clear was the night: the moon was young 
The larkspurs in the plots 
Mingled their orange with the gold 
Of the forget-me-nots. 
 
The poppies seemed a silver mist: 
So darkly fell the gloom. 
You scarce had guessed yon crimson streaks 
Were buttercups in bloom. 
 
But one thing moved: a little child 
Crashed through the flower and fern: 
And all my soul rose up to greet  
The sage of whom I learn. 
 
I looked into his awful eyes: 
I waited his decree: 
I made ingenious attempts 
To sit upon his knee. 
 
The babe upraised his wondering eyes, 
And timidly he said, 
"A trend towards experiment 
In modern minds is bred. 
 
"I feel the will to roam, to learn 
By test, experience, nous, 
That fire is hot and ocean deep, 
And wolves carnivorous. 
 
"My brain demands complexity," 
The lisping cherub cried. 
I looked at him, and only said, 
"Go on. The world is wide." 
 
A tear rolled down his pinafore, 
"Yet from my life must pass 
The simple love of sun and moon, 
The old games in the grass; 
 
"Now that my back is to my home 
Could these again be found?" 
I looked on him and only said, 
"Go on. The world is round."  

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