Thursday, December 13, 2007


This morning I saw a blog post containing the phrase "in his pomp"; quite British and, I thought, nice: in his pomp: attempting to make a splendid display as a stuffed shirt might do.

OED has a typically fine definition which includes a 1770 quote by Oliver Goldsmith from his Deserted Village:
Here, while the proud their long-drawn pomps display.
There the black gibbet glooms beside the way.
OED gives definitions for two usages of pomp as noun and two as verb. My favorite is the use as verb meaning to conduct oneself pompously.

It figures in one of Thomas Hardy's Late Lyrics:

I have seen her in gowns the brightest,
     Of azure, green, and red,
And in the simplest, whitest,
     Muslined from heel to head;
I have watched her walking, riding,
     Shade-flecked by a leafy tree,
Or in fixed thought abiding
     By the foam-fingered sea.

In woodlands I have known her,
     When boughs were mourning loud,
In the rain-reek she has shown her
     Wild-haired and watery-browed.
And once or twice she has cast me
     As she pomped along the street
Court-clad, ere quite she had passed me,
     A glance from her chariot-seat.

But in my memoried passion
     For evermore stands she
In the gown of fading fashion
     She wore that night when we,
Doomed long to part, assembled
     In the snug small room; yea, when
She sang with lips that trembled,
     "Shall I see his face again?"
{Source: Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier}
Roy Buckle has set this to music, but I can't find an online version or copy of the score.

On a site called Hardy's Answers, Hardy explains his use of unusual verbs such as this (and other "experiments with vocabulary" that give force to a poem:
Hardy's Short Stories, Poems and Other Wessex Poems


I have read and enjoyed immensely your Wessex Poems. However, it seems to me that from time to time you seem to make words up, in order to make a rhyme or keep the scan. Is that not a bit of a cop out? Good stuff, though.
(Thomas, aged 18-25)


Dear Thomas,

I am delighted you enjoyed Wessex Poems, and also that you spotted my experiments with vocabulary - even though you seem to take rather a dim view of them!

The first thing I should say in my own defence is that ''making words up'' is not at all an unusual activity for a poet: in fact poets help to enlarge and revitalise a language, and have always done so. Think of Shakespeare, who never hesitates to invent a word if one does not exist that suits his purpose. And you will also find modern poets such as Dylan Thomas doing the same.

It isn't really fair to say that in my case such coinages of new words are desperate measures to solve a problem of rhyming or scansion. The usual reason is to achieve greater expressiveness by giving the reader a tiny shock, so that a familiar idea suddenly becomes new again.

In my poetry I also aimed at the maximum degree of concentration, and I prefer to use short, incisive words. Even if the reader has never seen them before, there is usually no difficulty in guessing their meaning.

To give an example: one of my favourite devices is to create a new negative form by adding a prefix to a common word - 'unhope', for instance, and 'unbloom'. These seem to me to have a force that more familiar words would not have.

I ought to add that some of the words that may appear to be ''made up'' are actually revivals of old words that have dropped out of use, or the introduction of dialect or technical words that many people will not have come across before.

When I write (in Nobody Comes) that a car 'whangs along', or (in The Old Gown) that a girl 'pomped along the street', the verbs are of this kind. Of course I could have said that the car moved along, or the girl walked down the street, but I think the way I put it is more vigorous, more arresting, and more memorable. And that after all is what poetry is about. I hope you agree!

Best wishes,



Alan said...

Hi, really like the poem and the letters.

This is fom the begining of 'A Pair of Blue Eyes', when Elfride Swancourt sings to Stephen - when they first met (I've searched it in English):

"Every woman who makes a permanent impression on a man is usually recalled to his mind’s eye as she appeared in one particular scene, which seems ordained to be her special form of manifestation throughout the pages of his memory. As the patron Saint has her attitude and accessories in mediaeval illumination, so the sweetheart may be said to have hers upon the table of her true Love’s fancy, without which she is rarely introduced there except by effort; and this though she may, on further acquaintance, have been observed in many other phases which one would imagine to be far more appropriate to love’s young dream."

Jeff said...

That's beautiful. Thanks, Alan.