Friday, November 09, 2012

`Sun Breaks Through into Intense Light-Green'

A jagged stone wall of moss-covered consonants: viridity. One’s tongue dances from vowel to vowel. We’ve accomplished something when we’ve navigated the word without affectation and in proper context. An Indian-born professor used it on Thursday, describing the lush greenery of certain landscapes viewed from the air, especially after one has just flown over brown arid regions. The Oxford English Dictionary gives “the quality or state of being virid or green; greenness, verdancy.” From the Latin we’ve inherited a cluster of related green words – verdure, verdage, virid, viridarium, verdigris and so on.

When I shared viridity and its constellation with a friend who is an Orthodox Christian, she told me of her church’s “Trisagion Memorial Prayer for the Departed,” which asks for “eternal rest to the soul of Your departed servant, in a place of brightness, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, and sighing, have fled away.”

Peter Levi, the English poet and former Jesuit, died in 2000 at age sixty-eight. Because of his diabetes, Levi’s vision was failing in his final years. Posthumously, Anvil published Levi’s final collection, Viriditas (2001). In her preface, Levi’s widow, Deirdre Levi, says: “These last poems are mostly local, as Peter very much enjoyed walking round the village green, on his own, with stick and small dog, stopping often for conversation.” The title word is absent from the text, though trees and green appear in almost every poem. Here’s one, untitled:

“The trees are standing in a field of mist
and in a long field of their own shadows
sun breaks through into intense light-green
making the trees tower enlace enclose
all that is left of grass smells and shadow.”

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