4:01 PM Posted by James Owens


Clearing, the open

templum its primal sense a rough cut
for auguring bird flight on empty air

our ancient involvement with the root *glw
means glade glitter gleam glamour gladness
are accessible

a civilizing preference for rus
over closed dark silva or closed dark urbs
to argue that lighted space is synonymous
exactly and is praised in
glæd Hrothgar
rumheort Beowulf

stare up at the blank staring down

clarity is the unifying theme

glas (Fr.) to Klage (Ger.)

at ground level this wind
a puddle’s bright trouble of ripples and sun


templum: the original Greek probably meant a cut or cleared space in the forest, TEMplum as in appendecTOMy or aTOMic

*glw: an Indo-European root that shows up in many words having to do with light or brightness, see line 4, plus many other examples (a glade is a bright place in the woods; gladness is a brightening of the face, etc.)

rus: (Latin) countryside

silva: (Latin) forest

urbs: (Latin) city

glæd: (Anglo-Saxon) noble, but compare Modern Eng. glad

rumheort: (Anglo-Saxon) “roomy-hearted,” noble

glas: (French) knell

Klage (German) lament


I won’t make any lofty claims for the above poem. Poems that require footnotes are not good poems (The Waste Land does not count; those notes are part of the poem). This one is too private, reflecting an obsession I’ve suffered from for years --- *glw words.

There is something important to be said about the descendants of this I.E. root and their role in structuring symbolic value in the European languages, especially something important to say about the way this plays out in Beowulf. I’ve been trying to get at just what this is for a while, and haven’t found just the right nuances yet. It seems to be a key realization that glæd and rumheort are not approximate synonyms, but exact. That seems like such a small thing, but it opens out into wide vistas, with a little thought…..

Both A-S words make claims for nobility of character by assigning it to open space, where there is freedom and light: glæd is related to glade (a clearing: clear is another *glw word (Germanic “gl-“ equals Latin “cl-“ according to Grimm’s Law)).

(German reflects this principle of valuing open space, too, wo eine Lichtung im Wald ist auf English eine “light-ing, a glade”.) (And French, une clarière.)

Rumheort --- the noble heart is an open space (room, Raum), and this is cousin to Latin rus, the countryside so dear to Horace, etc., (the “rural”) because it is open and full of light, as opposed to the dark, narrow ways of the forest or city… (Heidegger, “Holzwege” are wood-paths that end in a clearing)

And so on, et cetera, etc.… Sorry to inflict this on you, if you don't care about such things. There is, btw, a fine doctoral dissertation in all this, if anybody needs one and isn't afraid to risk madness trying to keep track of it all (this is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg)…



sam of the ten thousand things said...

This is fascinating, James. Stay with it.

Roxana said...

yes, sam is absolutely right. I share the same obsession for etymology, but this one is new to me. oh I have to think about it - this would mean that gl is there in "gladius", which became "glaive" in french, to tell us about the brightness, the glitter of the sword blade?

anhaga said...

Sam, Thank you. I don't think I could stop if I wanted to....

anhaga said...

Roxana: Yes! At least, I want to say that, that gladius/glaive comes from *glw. And lots of old poems identify a hero's sword by the way it shines, some swords are named "the shining one," etc. And it would fit so well into the essay I want to write, eventually.

There are lots of Latin words that are from the *glw root: glaucus in the sense of "bright" or "shining"; glacies, ice, which shines in the sun; even glaber, "clean shaven," because that brightens the face, and more. But --- I can't find any authority who agrees that gladius is a word of this family. It has to be one, though.... I think....

A quick trip to an online dictionary tells me that the Romanian sword is sabie or spada (close to Spanish), so that's a different root. Do you see *glw in other Romanian words?

Roxana said...

until now I have only found the same Latin/French connections you already know of. and I remembered a name which used to be quite popular with the upper classes in the 19th century, Aglaia, I checked it and - yes, it means the splendid, bright one in Greek. It seems to be the equivalent of Clara then - what a fascinating discovery!
tell me, how did your obsession with gl start? :-)

anhaga said...

Roxana: Do you know Beowulf? A few years ago I wrote an essay that made connections between the building of the great hall in Beowulf and Martin Heidegger's idea of the Lichtung (in works like "The Origin of the Work of Art") as the open space that connects the earth and the sky, humans and the gods.

What eventually caught my attenion was realizing that German Lichtung and English glade and French clariere are really the same concept, the place of "light." Then I started finding so many related *glw words in other languages.

Get this: Many American high schools have something called a "glee club." That is an association of people who like to get together and sing, sort of an informal choir, and everybody assumes it is a "glee" club in the dictionary sense of "happiness."

But in Anglo-Saxon a "gleomann" (pronounce it "glee-man") was a "poet" or "singer" --- so the glee club is literally a singing club.

Then "gleomann" is a *glw word, because the poet illuminates or enlightens, or --- more likely, I think --- the poet spreads the "fame" of the the king, in the same way that Mediaeval Latin "clarus" means "famous," or the sort of horn called a "clarion" announces to the hearers that an important message is coming next.

The connections go on and on.

It is so enjoyable to write about this!....

Roxana said...

I haven't read Beowulf, so I just know the general stuff about it :-) But I am also a big fan of the idea of Lichtung. you know, just reading "Der Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers" by Handke and I find this beautiful phrase, it is about the the writer's gaze on the world: "als traete man, das alles miteinander anschauend, auf eine Lichtung hinaus". how wonderful this is! the look that gathers everything together and raises it to the light, into the open transcendence.

anhaga said...

Thank you, Roxana, for this quote. I have read The Afternoon of a Writer, but this sentence did not catch my attention (maybe because of the translation -- I'll have to look and see what the translator did with it!). This expresses beautifully what I've been trying to say about the Lichtung. Es scheint mir, Handke hat die Werke Heideggers sorgfaeltig gelesen.

Thank you, too, just for mentioning Peter Handke. I've loved his work since I ran across Die angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter in a secondhand bookstore years ago, and I've read almost all his books, I think. But I've never met another Amerikaner who has even heard of him. I did ask an Austrian grad student about him once, and she said she hated him. She preferred Peter Susskind (which she translated for me -- she said, "I like a writer you've never heard of, called Sweet Child," lol) and translations of Stephen King.