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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Defining Lambent and Eldritch

1. (esp of a flame) flickering softly over a surface
2. glowing with soft radiance
3. (of wit or humour) light or brilliant
[from the present participle of Latin lambere to lick]
This word was in a hymn last Sunday. All of us in the choir sang it, and then did the, "Do you have any idea what that word means?" eyebrow raise and collectively shook our heads. It makes me think of the artwork of one of my sister's college friends (once Bridget Sercer, now Sister Marie Pierre). Not the best image of her work, but hopefully it gives you some idea.

1. suggesting the operation of supernatural influences; "an eldritch screech"; "the three weird sisters"; "stumps...had uncanny shapes as of monstrous creatures"- John Galsworthy; "an unearthly light"; "he could hear the unearthly scream of some curlew piercing the din"- Henry Kingsley; strange, unearthly, eerie
 Etymology: c.1500, apparently somehow from elf (cf. Scottish variant elphrish), an explanation OED finds "suitable;" Watkins connects its elements with Old English el- "else, otherwise" and rice "realm." 
Do you all know that Goethe poem, Der Erlkönig? Back in the days when I was being foolhardy (so long ago -- I'm postively never foolhardy now) and thinking I would major in German, I memorized this poem. I pull out the bits I still remember whenever anyone tries to talk about how ugly German is. Just so we're clear, the only reason most people think it's ugly is because the extent of their exposure to the language is barking Nazis in World War II movies. English would sound pretty awful like that, too. Just say this verse out loud and see if you don't feel the softness and entrancement in it, especially in the second line. (In case you don't know how German is pronounced... say the sps like shp and pronounce the e at the end of schöne and Spiele (or any other word) as an uh sound. You pronounce an ie as an ee and an ei as an eye. So spiele, all things told, is said SHPEE-luh. The vowel sound in the middle of schöne is almost an euh sound; form your mouth to sound an oooo, and then bring up your lower mouth to flatten and widen the sound.)

«Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!“You dear child, come along with me!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;Such lovely games I'll play with you;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,Many colorful flowers are at the shore,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.»My mother has many a golden garment.”

So, this poem is about a father riding home late one night through the wind, holding his young son fast and safe and warm in his arms. The elven king begins to speak to the child, who is scared, and tries to tell his father what is happening. His father comforts him, saying it is only the wind, and that the spirits he sees are only shadows in the trees. The boy becomes more and more frightened as the elven king continues in his wooing, for lack of a better word. The father rides faster, but by the time he reaches home, the boy is dead in his arms. Not the happiest poem in the world (Goethe was one of the first Romantic poets, by the way) but perhaps you see why I thought of it in conjuction with the definition of eldritch. It is creepy and ethereal.
I suppose it's about time I wrote on something comic or uplifting. I'll get on that...

1 comment:

  1. Ha... I remember reading one of Asimov's Foundation books in high school and laughing my head off because one of the young characters had a mean English teacher called Mrs. Erlkonig. Sometimes you put these jokes in your work mostly to amuse yourself, never daring to hope anyone out there will get it--and then sometimes someone does, and it's awesome for all involved. Good ol' Asimov, requiescat in pace... Hopefully he and Carl Sagan and Douglas Adams all got the same ex-atheist suite (or crevice? however it works) in Purgatory. I'm sure we'll see them again.