Sunday, April 22, 2012

A camel awakened at dawn

My associations with camels are admittedly eclectic. They range from the obvious (deserts) to links most people would consider dubious (Ignatian retreats and the Liturgy of the Hours). So I was delighted to find this sentence in a book on language that a friend gave me for my birthday:

"Have you ever heard a camel being awakened at dawn, cinched up, and introduced, as if for the first time, to the notion that camels are beasts of burden? The camel's response begins way up high like a teakettle at just-boil and works its way down through the expostulation of an archbishop being contradicted, the gurgle of ancient plumbing, the cry of an emeritus member of the Explorers Club being violated in his leather chair, and on down down down into some deep body cavity unknown to man." — Alphabetter Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.

It's a heady and laugh inducing melange that evokes Gerard Manley Hopkins ("just-boil"), Ralph Steadman's caricature of a cardinal (which does not reflect my opinion of my archbishop, I hasten to say!), and Elizabeth Peter's dryly periphrastic Amelia Peabody ("the cry of an emeritus member of the Explorers Club...").

Blount's entry on Hopkins, filed under "foil," describes his use of sprung rhythms to "generate more torque" than one might imagine possible — poetically or otherwise. I have a sudden image of Hopkins under a poem with a wrench, tightening the language until the chassis groaned.

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