“Old rooms, old tunes, old loves -- all of them gone.”
I happened on a word I assumed was new, perhaps even the author’s neologism or something coined by Madison Avenue, only to find it was at least six-hundred years old: newfangleness. Chaucer used it in “The Squire’s Tale”: “Men loven of propre kynde newefangelnesse.” You’ll find it in Skelton and Spenser. It’s rooted in the Old English verb fang, meaning “to lay hold of, grasp, hold, seize; to clasp, embrace.” In 1986, one of the poets I’m fondest of, Henri Coulette (1927-88), published “Newfangleness” in The Iowa Review:
“What can be said? An oriel explodes.
A staircase, like a spilled accordion,
Drops to its knees and groans.
Newel and banister part.
The wrecking ball doth murder the bedroom cupid.
“The young are writing what they call free verse.
Their fingers have forgotten how to count,
Those delicate long fingers.
No Anne Boleyn now would sigh,
Struck by the cunning of her Wyatt’s measure.
Old rooms, old tunes, old loves--all of them gone.
The watch is relentless, but its chime is sweet.
Take up the minus sign--
Go, run with the Abyss:
You lose what you must love, yet you must love.”
Sir Thomas Wyatt, long suspected of having had an affair with Anne Boleyn, used the word in his elusive poem “They Flee From Me.” Wyatt and newfangleness show up again, in Coulette’s “The Renaissance in England”:
“Wyatt takes up his quill. Henry has spoken.
Newfangleness goes gadding hereabout.
Farewell is honed, and every promise broken.
“A scullion dreams he let the fire die out,
And has, and will be thrashed with a mule’s tether.
In his small dream, there is no room for doubt.
“In the King’s mews, his favorite moults a feather.
Catherine weeps, as Henry goes to see
Anne under ermine in the altogether.
“It is late March of 1533.”
Two months later, Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England, and three years later she was executed. The poet’s colleague and friend Terry Santos writes in “Remembering Henri Coulette”:
“We talked often about loss -- it was one of his recurring themes and I believe it was one of the ways he was preparing himself for his death -- and whenever we did, I would say, ‘Old rooms, Henri,’ and he would nod. The phrase is from the last stanza of his poem ‘Newfangleness,’ and in its balance of opposites, its echo of retrospection and resignation, it comes as close to a summing up as anything he wrote.”
[Both poems are included in The Collected Poems of Henri Coulette (eds. Donald Justice and Robert Mezey, University of Arkansas Press, 1990).]