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Reining in the high horse
Do you say ‘weep’ ever – except inside a poem?
It’s a word I noticed a lot during the reading window. If you’re a rhyming poet, ‘weep’ has always offered temptation because it goes with sleep and deep and keep. Also ‘weeping’, as a feminine ending, has a deliciously mournful fall to it.
But these days there aren’t so many rhymers. The poets are doing other things. These things include a subconscious (I think) attraction to certain ‘poetic’ words. They tend to turn up towards the end of a poem.
The little word ‘yet’ is one to watch. It often signals a mini-epiphany (‘and yet’), which means the poet may be getting onto her high horse.
On the other hand, ‘yet’ (meaning ‘but’) may put in an appearance because the poet has already used ‘but’ and needs an alternative.
Alas (and ‘alas’ has gone, except for entirely mock sorrow), poetic technique is tricky. A matter of getting the balance right between deliberate repetition (allowable even on a low horse) and accidental harping on one word too much.
And yet ‘yet’ is allowable, even in contemporary conversational register, in the phrase ‘yet again’, or ‘not yet’. So it’s not the word itself that’s retro: it’s the way it’s used.
Which brings me to ‘for’.
‘For’ as an ordinary preposition (‘This is for you’) is no problem.
It’ s no problem in a phrase like ‘left for home’ or ‘for the love of Mike’, either. But when you come across ‘for’ meaning ‘because’, you’re back in high-horse territory.
I couldn’t do it here for I would immediately sound odd. (See what I mean?) But it pops up in poems all the time. It’s more convenient than ‘because’, less business-like than ‘since’...
But back to weeping. If you need to weep (in a poem) and don’t want to use the word, what will you do?
I don’t weep at funerals; I cry. But ‘cry’ brings its own problems, for it also means to shout out loud.
‘Whimper’ and or ‘howl’ sounds like a dog.
‘Keen’ is interesting and yet you worry what the person is actually doing.
‘Snivel’ is a person who doesn’t have a hanky, and ‘sob’ is certainly emotive though it sounds blobby.
‘Tear up’ is modern, unless you read the word wrong and visualise shredded paper.
In Scotland, we have the word ‘grete’ for weeping but alas it can get confused with the English ‘hello’, forbye.
On balance, weeping in poems is not such a great idea. Though obviously if the reader weeps, it’s quite another matter.
Weep: my father, who died aged 92 in 2013 - used to use 'weep' whenever he talked about 'crying'. He came from a mining family in Nottingham and it sounded apt, sad and expressive, when he used it. I think it must have been used in his community when young. It is a lovely word, unlike 'Tear up' which is an ugly phrase to me. 'Shed tears', (they) 'wept' - these seem acceptable for daily use and in poetry.
I do use weep in ordinary life occasionally for that state where tears come out of the eyes without any scrunching of the face or sobbing.