Wednesday, February 28, 2018

`A Pudency So Rosy'

I’m reading Cymbeline again, a play I neglected when young, as I did most of the late works except for The Tempest. All thirty-five lines in Act II, Scene 5 are spoken by Posthumus Leonatus, who is in Rome, staying in the house of Philario. He speaks of Imogen. These lines contain the word that stopped me:

“O! vengeance, vengeance;
Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain’d 
And pray’d me oft forbearance; did it with         
A pudency so rosy the sweet view on ’t   
Might well have warm’d old Saturn; that I thought her
As chaste as unsunn’d snow. O! all the devils!”

Pudency? Its echoes are unlikely, given the context: prudency, pudendum, pudendal, impudence. The OED cites Shakespeare’s as the first usage, and defines it as “modesty, bashfulness, or reticence; embarrassment.” George Meredith’s use in The Egoist may allude to Posthumus’ speech: “Though they are often . . . wantonly desperate in their acts, their tongues are curbed by rosy pudency.” Where had I read this word before? And why had I remembered enough to hear a whisper but not remember where? That’s what makes the internet a useful supplement to the dictionary. In thirty seconds I had my answer: Section X of Geoffrey Hill’s The Triumph of Love (1998), the volume that has come to seem like his best (difficult to say with certainty with a poet so prolific in his final twenty years):

“Last things first; the slow haul to forgive them:
Chamberlain's compliant vanity, his pawn ticket saved
from the antepenultimate ultimatum; their strict
pudency, but not to national honour; callous
discretion; their inwardness with things of the world;
their hearing as a profound music
the hollow lion-roar of slammed vaults;
the decent burials at the eleventh hour:
their Authorized Version - it has seen better days -
`nation shall not lift up sword against nation’
or `nation shall rise up against’ (a later
much-revised draft of the treaty). In either case
a telling figure out of rhetoric,
epanalepsis, the same word first and last.”

Chamberlain is Hill’s model of the fecklessly appeasing politician. The Munich betrayal of Czechoslovakia happened when Hill was six years old. As usual, his preoccupation is theological. The section begins with “Last things first” and concludes with “the same word first and last” – the rhetorical device known as epanalepsis: “a figure by which the same word or clause is repeated after intervening matter.”

1 comment:

Foose said...

Related (maybe synonymous) is pudicity, used to describe Anne Boleyn by the ambassadors sent by Wolsey to entreat the Pope for an annulment of Henry VIII's first marriage:

"... the purity of her life, her constant virginity, her maidenly and womanly pudicity, her soberness, chasteness, meekness, humility, wisdom ..."