“April showers have begun to embody the dry earth.”

Ah, Spring!

My student was attempting to paraphrase the opening of the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. You know:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages….

Those soft showers pierce March’s drought, and bathe the underground roots in sweet liquid that engenders flowers. That, combined with sweet zephyrs breathing life into crops, the young sun half-through Aries shining down, and little birds singing, makes people want to get out and travel—in this case, travel to a holy shrine somewhere.

This is an interesting illustration used to represent the "sun in Aries" on http://midheavenastrology.com but is neither original to that site nor originally an astrological illustration. This same image appears on Soulja Boy's album, The Last Crown. Of course we cognoscenti know that the original is the anonymous 1888 engraving published by Flammarion in 1888, with color added. Colorized, it does feel like "The sun in Aries," doesn't it? And the kneeling, reaching man might just be inspired by that desire to break out of winter's cabin fever and GO somewhere! Is that a walking stick?

Has my student found a new meaning for “embody”? As far as Webster’s knows, that word means “to give a body to (a spirit); to make concrete and perceptible; to cause to become a body; to personify.” The OED offers the same definitions, but also notes a meaning in chemistry and physics: “To coalesce; to solidify.”

This last reminds me of the time when, naïve, ignorant, and enthusiastic, I decided to replace the sand in my theater’s outdoor “butt bucket” (a nice rustic wooden half-barrel used as a big ashtray). I went to Home Depot, where whatever they say you CAN’T have a really constructive conversation with a worker—unless you’re planning at least a bathroom renovation—and bought the only sand that came in bags lighter than 50 pounds. I dragged the 25-pounder into the car, and then out again at the theater, dumped the dirty old sand-and-butts mixture, and poured in my nice clean sand. After the first rain, we had a half-barrel filled with rock-solid cement. I don’t know what I bought, but April’s shoures soote certainly did solidify it. If you misunderstand the “concrete” in Webster’s  “to make concrete and perceptible,” you might also think of my sand-barrel.

Perhaps my student was thinking of “embody” in the sense of “give body to,” but “body” as heft rather than corpus: without the rain, the soil is dry (and eventually dusty); with watering, it acquires mass, weight, what a costumer might call “hand”—it gets some body to it. This is actually a pretty nice idea, although it’s a new usage and therefore isn’t likely to communicate effectively with a reader (e.g., me).

We had a fairly dry March this year, for sure, and almost no snow, so the soil is rather dry, although Spring seems to be finding enough swich licour in the ground to get going. But other years have enabled Connecticut to join Vermont in experiencing that Vermont special, Mud Season, when the melting snows mingle with early-spring rains and bathe more than roots in swich licour—when the world is, in fact, what e.e. cummings calls “mud-luscious.” If my student had wanted to describe that kind of earth, he might have availed himself of the word listed directly after “embody” in the OED:

“embog.”

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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