26 April 2005


Some words have faded from the language, and eglantine is probably one of them, at least in the United States. You may remember my quoting it back in March from Wallace Stevens's poem "Floral Decorations for Bananas":

Well, nuncle, this plainly won't do.
These insolent, linear peels
And sullen, hurricane shapes
Won't do with your eglantine.
They require something serpentine.
Blunt yellow in such a room!

Today I found eglantine in William Wordsworth's The Prelude, a long poem divided into 14 books, this from the 8th, begin at line 230 in the 1850 edition:

. . . O'er paths and fields
In all that neighbourhood, through narrow lanes
Of eglantine, and through the shady woods
And o'er the Border Beacon, and the waste
Of naked pools, and common crags that lay
Exposed on the bare fell, were scattered love,
The spirit of pleasure, and youth's golden gleam.

What is eglantine? The Shorter OED says "Any of several hedge shrubs: spec. the sweet-brier, Rosa rubiginosa. Also occas. (chiefly dial.), the dogrose Rosa canina; the honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum."

And why did both Stevens and Wordsworth use the word in their poems? Aside from its elegant feel, its eglantine feel? Sound sound sound. What else rhymes with serpentine and swims with the sound of the letter "n" and has a Latin root that means thorny or prickly, like Stevens's poem is thorny and prickly. Wordsworth was also on an n-roll and an l-roll as he carried his sound from neighbourhood to narrow lanes through eglantine all the way to that gleam that slant-rhymes with -tine.

Or they did it for some other reason entirely having to do with roses and/or honeysuckle, whose Latin name, Lonicera periclymenum, is one of my all time favorite designants.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect the sound of it alone would be enough reason. I had no idea what it meant until now, so thanks.