Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Today's Words: marmoreal or marmorean

marmoreal or marmorean: Of or relating to marble or to marble statues. Can be used to describe one's personality as cold or aloof. Thus, the following sonnet by Aubrey de Vere, reviewed on p. 605 of The Westminster Review, Feb–May 1843:
Count each affliction, whether light or grave,
God's messenger sent down to thee. Do thou
with courtesy receive him: rise and bow;
And ere his shadow pass thy threshold, crave
Permission first his heavenly feet to lave.
Then lay before him all thou hast. Allow
No cloud of passion to usurp thy brow,
Or mar thy hospitality, no wave
Of mortal tumult to obliterate
The soul's marmoreal calmness. Grief should be
Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate;
Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free;
Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end.
This isn't a great poem. "[H]is heavenly feet to lave" just falls completely flat, a contrived rhyme. "To lave" means, in this case, "to wash." This line makes me think of Miracle Max's (i.e., Billy Crystal's) lines from The Princess Bride: "...he distinctly said 'to blave' and as we all know, to blave means to bluff, heh? So you were probably playing cards, and he cheated --"

Notice also how the author slips in an extra syllable to get marmoreal to fit, fudging on the iambic pentameter.

The reviewer of this poem states that a soul can't have "marmoreal calmness." I don't know that I'd go as far to say it's impossible. What I think the poet is going for is calmness and coolness like a marble statue. It's really hard to get a big pretty hunk of rock riled up.