Skip to content

And

I was recently reading Silver on the Tree, the last in Susan Cooper’s children’s fantasy series, The Dark is Rising; and I noticed how many sentences she uses beginning with And. (‘And then through the mist came flying a pair of swans…’; ‘And through the swaying branches they could see the mistletoe…’; ‘And then the ship Pridwen was upon them” etc etc).

I’m not concerned here with the primary school shibboleth that one shouldn’t start sentences with And (or But). I think it’s fine to start sentences with conjunctions if you want. Many great writers, such as Dickens, do it all the time. What I’m interested in here is the effect that Cooper achieves by it: that is, to attain a tone of high seriousness, of epic heroism that sounds almost religious. And that of course is the answer; it is religious in tone, being inspired by all those verses in the King James Bible that start with And: And the Earth was without form, and void; And God said let there be light; And God saw that it was good; And the Lord God planted a garden; And Noah built an altar; And it came to pass, etc etc etc.

But this gives rise to a further question: why do so many verses in the Bible begin with And? The answer is that this results from the translation from the Hebrew which the bishops and scholars made for James I in 1611. In Hebrew there is a letter vov, written ‫  ו ‬ and pronounced v, which when used as a prefix means ‘and’. Thus yom v’layloh = ‘day and night’. When tagged onto the front of verb it can change the tense. (I owe these facts to a member of my WEA philosophy class, who studied Hebrew as a boy). This letter frequently opens verses in the original Hebrew text as an indicator of tense, but was consistently translated by the bishops as ‘And’.

And in consequence, because of those Biblical associations, some 400 years later Susan Cooper can write a sentence like ‘And on our roads, on the old ways, the green grass grows’ and it sounds all dignified and exalted.

And here ends my blog post.

Advertisements

These Are a Few of my Scariest Things

Just thought I should give my new book a puff: it is a collection of children’s poetry called These Are a Few of my Scariest Things. If there is  a child aged between 5 and 11 whom you’re thinking of buying a present for and you only have £5.99 to spend, this would be the ideal gift. Available through Amazon – their website claims they have no copies in stock, but it is print-on-demand so if you order one you’ll get it swiftly. Here is a sample to whet your appetite:

The Castle Ghost

At night, in the castle courtyard,

you can see Sir Walter Pugh,

whose head was removed from his body

in fifteen forty-two,

for writing a scurrilous poem

that ridiculed the King;

so the King had him charged with treason

and the axeman did his thing.

 

And every night he wanders

in his doublet and bloodstained ruff

with his head held under his armpit;

and if you’re brave enough

you can go up close and listen

and hear him softly mutter

the poem that stated that Henry the Eighth

was a psychopathic nutter.

 

 

Funny comments that aren’t funny

There’s a whole recent crop of humorous, or would-be humorous remarks that seem to pursue one wherever one goes; pick up a newspaper, switch on the radio, turn on the telly or simply overhear a conversation and there they all are. I’m thinking of, for instance, “What could possibly go wrong?” as a comment on a set-up clearly fraught with peril (“Barbecues? Lots of alcohol, a blazing grill and children running about all over the place – what could possibly go wrong?”) ; “No pressure, then” to comment on an obviously pressurised situation; “said no one ever”, to describe an unconvincing slogan or bit of dialogue; “what he said” to indicate support for a complex proposition that one isn’t confident of getting right; and, most annoying of all, “see what I did there” as a comment on one’s own laboured or unfunny joke.

They all have the same air of tired, lazy irony, and are so well-worn they give the impression of hanging between a set of droopy, frayed inverted commas. For God’s sake, please, can we have some new humorous remarks?

These Are a Few of my Scariest Things

Today is Hallowe’en, and with exquisite timing my new book of ghosty poems for children, These Are a Few of my Scariest Things, is published today. You can order it at your local bookshop or on Amazon. Amazon don’t have an image up for it yet so I supply one here. I’ll also treat you all to a sample poem.

 

 

The Castle Ghost

At night, in the castle courtyard,

you can see Sir Walter Pugh,

whose head was removed from his body

in fifteen forty-two,

for writing a scurrilous poem

that ridiculed the King;

so the King had him charged with treason

and the axeman did his thing.

And every night he wanders

in his doublet and bloodstained ruff

with his head held under his armpit;

and if you’re brave enough

you can go up close and listen

and hear him softly mutter

the poem that stated that Henry the Eighth

was a psychopathic nutter.

Hark!

It being Hallowe’en, I felt like reading something childish and spooky, so I picked up my old copy of Susan Cooper’s scary fantasy, The Dark is Rising – a book I haven’t looked at for several decades. I was interested to note that early on in the story Will Stanton, the hero, says “Hark at the rooks! Something must have disturbed them.”

Hark at… You don’t hear that much any more. The Dark is Rising was written in 1973, but even then I think hark would have had an archaic air. From my childhood I remember the word was mostly used by older adults, in a humorous way, when a child said something cheeky or funny or precocious: “Ooh, hark at him!” (This usage was referenced in the 1969 sketch show starring Ronnie Barker, Hark at Barker.)

Now of course the word is practically dead, only living on in old rhymes and hymns like Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or Hark, Hark, the Dogs do Bark.

Word of the Day

Today’s Word of the Day is philosophaster, and I owe my acquaintance with it to Nigel Warburton. It means a person who has only a superficial knowledge of philosophy or who feigns a knowledge he or she does not possess. Hmm… I feel the strange sensation of a cap fitting neatly over my head…

Majestic Basil, King of the Herbs

I was shopping in Waitrose this afternoon – I can’t afford it, but I just felt like it – and I happened to stop by the herbs stand in the fruit and veg section, where I noticed that all the little plastic packets of herbs were adorned with shouty alliterative slogans announcing the amazing qualities and mystic properties of the herbs therein. For example, parsley is described as “VITAL, VIGOROUS AND VIBRANT”. Dill is billed as “DELICATE DILL – FEATHERY FRAGRANT FRONDS OF FLAVOUR – THE ANCIENT SIGN OF FORTUNE”. Then there’s “ELEGANT AND EMINENT” Thai basil, “THE SWEET HOLY HERB, REVERED FOR CENTURIES”. I think they are going for a sort of Buddhist temple vibe with that one. For mint they have gone for a jazzier, more minimalist vibe: “COOL, COOL MINT”. Then there is “ THE BEAUTIFUL BAY LEAF, SAVOURY OR SWEET”, followed by the explanatory note “THE ESSENTIAL BOUQUET GARNI OR ‘BACCALAUREATE’ – GARLANDS OF BAY TO HONOUR THE SCHOLAR”.

It must be fun to work in Waitrose’s creative department. My favourite of all was “MAJESTIC BASIL, KING OF THE HERBS – ONCE REGARDED SACRED TO THE GODS, BASIL STILL REIGNS SUPREME.” I can’t hear that in my mind without imagining Donald Sinden playing King Lear.