Language is fossil poetry

flowering tree

...not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree

…the poet is the Namer or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another’s, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature is a certain self-regulated motion or change; and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptize her but baptizes herself; and this through the metamorphosis again.

by Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882)
from Essays: Second Series, The Poet, 1844


Language is fossil poetry

Language is fossil poetry

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2 Responses to “Language is fossil poetry”

  1. Daisy Says:

    I like this part of the selection, too: “But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other.” Of course, I’d say “because SHE sees it.” 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Able Says:

    This “she” is partial to “The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture,” and the word “animalcules.” 🙂

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