Sunday, July 01, 2018


Inflected Languages

W.H. Auden, Poets of the English Language, Vol. I: Langland to Spenser (New York: The Viking Press, 1950), pp. xvi-xvii, rpt. The Complete Works of W.H. Auden, Vol. III: Prose, 1949-1955 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 106:
The real poetic advantage of an inflected language is of another kind. An inflected language implies that the nature of a thing is determined by its relations to other things, so that a change in its relations causes a change in its nature. In so far as poetry is concerned with emotions, this seems a more natural poetic attitude than that implied by an uninflected language, for I certainly feel myself to be a different person when I am kicking from the one I am when I am being kicked. Further, since the form of a word itself expresses its syntactical relations, it is possible for the poet by his choice of word order to obtain a double set of relations, those of syntax and those of neighborhood.

Every English poet must regret that his language makes it impossible for him to secure effects such as these of Horace:
       Nunc et campus et areae
lenesque sub noctem sussuri
composita repetantur hora

nunc et latentis proditor intumo
gratus puellae risus ab angulo
    pignusque dereptur lacertis
    aut digito male pertinaci
This is Horace, Odes 1.9.18-24, in garbled form. Read susurri for sussuri and dereptum for dereptur. The reprint adds yet another misprint (composite for composita).

Hat tip: Taylor Posey.


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