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RICHARD CHEVENIX TRENCH is a clergyman of the English Church; being, also, examining chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford, and Professor of Divinity in King's College, London. He has published, among other things, a volume entitled “Lessons in Proverbs,” and “ The Study of Words ;" from the latter of which, abounding, as it does, in useful instruction, we take the following nteresting extract. FOSSIL PUETRY.
TRENCH 1. A popular American author has somewhere characterized language as "fossil poetry,”-evidently meaning that just as in some fossil, curious and beautiful shapes of vegetable or animal life are permanently bound up with the stone, and rescued from that perishing which would otherwise have been theirs—so, in words, are beautiful thoughts and images,—the imagination and feeling of past ages, preserved and made safe forever.
2. Language, then, is fossil poetry; in other words, we are not to look for the poetry which a people may possess, only in its poems, or its poetical customs, traditions, and beliefs. Many a single word, also, is itself a concentrated poem, having stores of poetical thought and imagery laid up in it. Examine it, and it will be found to rest on some deep analogy of things natural and things spiritual; bringing those to illustrate and to give an abiding form and body to these.
3. “Iliads without a Homer,"* some one has called, with a little exaggeration, the beautiful but anonymous ballad poetry of Spain. One may be permitted, perhaps, to push the exaggeration a little further in the same direction, and to apply the phrase not merely to a ballad, but to a word. Let me illustrate that which I have been here saying somewhat more at length by the word “ tribulation.”
4. We all know, in a general way, that this word, which occurs not seldom in Scripture and in the Liturgy, means affliction, sorrow, anguish; but it is quite worth our while to know how it means this, and to question the word a little closer. It is de
* See Notes on Exercise CLXXVI.
rived from the Latin “ tribulum”—which was the thrashing instrument or roller, whereby the Roman husbandman separated the corn from the husks; and “ tribulatio," in its primary significance, was the act of making this séparation.
5. But some Latin writer of the Christian church appropriated the word and image for the setting forth of a higher truth; and sorrow, distress, and adversity, being the appointed means for the separating, in men, of their chaff from their wheat, of whatever, in them, was light and trivial and poor from the solid and the true, therefore, he called these sorrows and griefs “.tribulations,” thrashings, that is, of the inner spiritual man, without which there could be no fitting him for the Heavenly garner.
6. Now, in proof of what I have just said, namely, that a single word is often a concentrated poem, a little grain of gold capable of being beaten out into a broad extent of gold-leaf, I will quote, in reference to this very word“ tribulation,” a graceful composition by an early English poet, which, you will at once perceive, is all wrapped up in this word :
7. Till from the straw, the flail, the corn doth beat,
Until the chaff be purged from the wheat,