Saturday, June 18, 2005

cultivating language/reading Thomas Hardy by flashlight

What really amazes me about working in the garden is how it makes real certain tropes in the english language.
I live the reality of what were just metaphors to me before I engaged in the actions that created them.
In working with the roots of plants, I encounter the roots of english thought and english language. It is immense.

For example, the adjective "harrowing", one of my favorites in describing emotional states, experiences, etc.

Yesterday I harried/harrowed/harassed the soil using a harrow, which is a kind of rake. We had to break up the soil in order to plant tomatoes. So I harrowed it. As I did so, chunking the heavy rake through dirt clods, roughing up the dirt, shaking it, clawing at it, and disturbing it until it became soft and crumby loam, the word "harrowing" kept going through my mind. I'm harrowing, I'm harrowing, I thought, and my back, my eyes, my body, my fingers, made the connection between the doing and the metaphor.

This happens all the time when I am gardening. The language of cultivation, of growing food, is so basic to the fabric of english thought that we speak of actions without thinking, and many of us, without ever having engaged in the activities that inspired the metaphors. In fact, some words are so intrinsic to the language that I at least, didn't consciously realize that they came from concrete things and activities.

So gardening is awakening the poet in me--if to realize the possibilities in the connection between life and language is to be a poet.

Plants talk. The dirt talks. Ideas come from cultivating the soil. This is one of the most pleasurable shocks I've had in a long time.

I am looking at cliches, at sayings, at basic words in a new light, the light of living them, directly.

I am also reading Thomas Hardy (Jude the Obscure) and noticing how his relationship to the natural world infects his language and his storytelling.

Hardy cracks me up! I haven't read him since high school.
He's so deadly earnest, such a revolutionary, dour and sexy and almost modern-- and with the plodding narrative pace of an ox, a pessimist to the bone, and yet his characters are round and real, and some of his descriptions--his still lifes, if you will, are so beautiful and perfect that I can't help it kissing my hand to him. Plus it is great to read Thomas Hardy under the damp bedclothes in the tent, by flashlight, knowing that I have milked an animal, or pulled a weed, or walked a field, like his characters. I feel close to Hardy's pastorals, and i also feel close to his characters' sexual and personal struggles.

Great fun.


Blogger Boz said...

Gardening tip: do not touch tomato plants with nicotine on your fingers.

9:19 AM  

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