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Valley Valleys are low places, where villagers dwell, as opposed to mountains, where

the lordly might have their fortresses or castles; thus the social ranks of high

and low often correspond to the terrain. But when the Lord comes, according

to Isaiah, the ranks will be reversed: ‘‘Every valley shall be exalted, and every

mountain and hill shall be made low’’ (40.4). This revolutionary prophecy lent

its imagery to militant Christians for millennia, as we see in a sermon of John

Bunyan: ‘‘If you would understand the Scriptures, you shall read it calleth rich

men wicked Mountains, and poor believing men Valleys’’ (‘‘The Right Devil

Discovered’’). See Mountain.

In a less militant mode, many poets acepted the valley as the right place for

a humble Christian. Young wishes to ‘‘steal / Along the vale / Of humble life,

secure from foes’’ (Ocean st. 61). Of his unchronicled villagers Gray writes,

‘‘Along the cool sequestered vale of life / They kept the noiseless tenor of their

way’’ (‘‘Elegy’’ 75--76).

The Latin hymn Salve, Regina (11--12C) entreats the Virgin to pity those in

hac lacrimarum valle, ‘‘in this valley of tears.’’ ‘‘Vale of tears’’ is the Bishops

Bible version (1568) of Psalm 84.6, rendered by the AV as ‘‘valley of Baca’’ (an

unknown name); recent versions give it as ‘‘valley of thirst.’’ ‘‘Vale of tears’’ has

become a commonplace for this life; Shelley names ‘‘our state’’ as ‘‘This dim

vast vale of tears’’ (‘‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’’ 16--17). A verse of the most

famous Psalm gives a similar image: ‘‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of

the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’’ (23.4). With or without tears, then,

many writers have taken this life to mean a difficult and often frightening

passage through a valley. Dante has been walking through a valley ‘‘that had

harassed my heart with so much fear’’ when he reaches the foot of a sunlit

hill (Inferno 1.15, trans. Mandelbaum). ‘‘Yet whilest I,’’ Spenser writes, ‘‘in

this wretched vale doo stay, / My wearie feete shall ever wandring be’’

(‘‘Daphnaida’’ 456--57). Blake imagines the ‘‘just man’’ following his path

along the ‘‘vale of death’’ (Marriage of Heaven and Hell 2.3--5).

Almost as an echo of ‘‘vale of tears,’’ Shakespeare has Othello say ‘‘I am

declind / Into the vale of years’’ (3.3.269--70), into old age (see also Gray,

‘‘Eton’’ 81).

Veil In the ancient world veils were worn by brides (e.g., Gen. 24.65), sometimes by

prostitutes (Gen. 38.14--19), and by women in mourning (Iliad 24.93). Since

medieval times most orders of nuns have worn veils; ‘‘to take the veil’’ is to

become a nun.

The most important biblical veil is the cloth in the Tabernacle, and later

the Temple, that separates the inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies from the

outer room. ‘‘The holy place within the vail’’ was to be entered only on the

annual Day of Atonement by the high priest (Lev. 16). When Jesus died,

‘‘behold, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom’’

(Matt. 27.51), an event that the Epistle to the Hebrews interprets as Jesus

becoming the new high priest (6.19--20) who lets us all enter the holy place

‘‘By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil,

that is to say, his flesh’’ (10.20).

This allegorical use of the veil leads us to the veil as a symbol of allegory

itself. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets, his face shone

with the glory of the Lord, frightening the Israelites, so ‘‘he put a vail on his

face’’ while he spoke with them (Exod. 34.33). Paul interprets the veil as veiled

speech, concealing the transience of his law, in contrast to the plain speech of

Christians, and adds an allegory about reading allegorically: the children of

Israel are blinded, ‘‘for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away

in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ,’’ but

when their heart turns to Christ ‘‘the vail shall be taken away’’ and we shall

behold ‘‘with open face’’ the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 3.12--18). Spenser invokes

this passage in his allegorical Faerie Queene: he asks the Queen to ‘‘pardon me

thus to enfold / In covert vele, and wrap in shadowes light, / That feeble eyes

your glory may behold’’ (2 Pro. 5; see also Dedicatory Sonnet 3).

The Book of Revelation or Apocalypse means literally ‘‘unveiling’’ or ‘‘lifting

up the veil’’ (there is nothing in the word apocalypsis itself that implies the

end of the world). Writers committed to revealing the truth often resort to

veil imagery. Blakes writings are filled with veils, symbolizing not only our

lack of vision but the entire fallen world; he has a female character named

Vala (with a veil) who among other things stands for nature. The veil is a

favorite image of Shelleys: he has a ‘‘veil of life and death’’ (‘‘Mont Blanc’’ 54),

a ‘‘veil of space and time’’ (‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ 86), and ‘‘Times eternal veil’’

(Queen Mab 8.12). These will all be rent when we behold the truth in this life

or the next, but sometimes he cautions, ‘‘Lift not the painted veil which those

who live / Call Life’’ (sonnet: ‘‘Lift not . . . ’’).

Another influential ancient veil is the one that covered the statue of Isis at

Sais (Egypt). According to Plutarch, an inscription on the statue read: ‘‘I am

all, past, present, and future, and my robe no mortal has unveiled’’ (De Iside et

Osiride 354c). Schillers poem ‘‘The Veiled Image at Sais’’ tells of an over-eager

novice who unveils the statue to learn the ‘‘Truth’’ and is smitten by sorrow,

while Novaliss unfinished story tells that he who lifts the veil sees only

himself (The Novices of Sais). Tennysons despairing lines -- ‘‘What hope of

answer, or redress? / Behind the veil, behind the veil’’ (In Memoriam 56.27--28) --

may derive from the Isis legend as well as from Shelleys cosmic veils.

Elsewhere Tennyson writes, ‘‘For the drift of the Maker is dark, an Isis hid by

the veil’’ (Maud 1.144).

Vintage see Wine

Violet In classical literature the ‘‘violet’’ (Greek ion, Latin viola) referred to several

kinds of flowers, such as the pansy (viola tricolor), so it is not always clear

whether to translate it as ‘‘violet’’ or not. Its earliest appearance, a unique

usage in Homer (Odyssey 5.72), was questioned in ancient times as a scribal

error, but Homer also uses the compound word ioeides, ‘‘violet-colored,’’ as an

epithet of the sea, and that usage suggests that Homer thought of the ion as

the purple flower we call the violet, the viola odorata or purpurea, the ‘‘sweet

violet.’’ (It was used, like the murex, to make dye. See Purple.) Our violet, in

any case, is the usual and most distinctive reference of both ancient words.

The flower had various associations in classical culture. Along with several

other flowers it belonged to Persephone (Latin Proserpina): see the first

Homeric Hymn to Demeter 2.6, Bacchylides Epinician 3.2, and Ovid, Metamorphoses

5.392. It also belonged to Attis the dying god: Ovid tells how it sprang

from his blood in Fasti 4.283ff. and 5.226. It thus had strong associations with

the dead. Again in Fasti Ovid recommends that we honor our dead ancestors

with such simple things as grain, salt, bread, and loose violets (2.539); Martial

(10.32.1) states that violets and roses may be placed by a portrait of the dead;

and Juvenal (12.90) has ‘‘violets of every color’’ (here perhaps pansies) offered

to the paternal Lares or gods of the hearth. On 22 March, at the beginning of

spring, the Romans celebrated the dies violaris, the day on which violets were

put on graves, probably to betoken the renewal of life here or hereafter. The

violets appearance in early spring, its brief life, and its dark blood-like color

lent it naturally to the cult of the dead.

The violet also belonged to Aphrodite (Venus), along with the rose. Homer

calls her ‘‘violet-crowned’’ in his second Hymn to Aphrodite 6.18 and Solon

repeats the epithet in one of his elegies (19.4). At the spring Dionysia in

Athens, violet garlands were worn by celebrants. Thus the two gods of eros

and ecstasy both blessed the violet, giving the flower associations with love

that long remained in western poetry. Along with its flourishing in early

spring, the natural basis for this symbolism probably lay in its rich, sweet

odor. At least three Greek poets, Theognis (250), Simonides (frag. 150), and

Bacchylides (Epinician 5.34), called the Muses ‘‘violet-crowned,’’ and a famous

fragment by Pindar (frag. 76) attached the epithet to the city of Athens,

perhaps because of the spring Dionysia, one of the most important civic rites

(Aristophanes quotes Pindar at Knights 1323, 1329, and Acharnians 637).

The violets association with both love and death may account for the

striking use of it in Shakespeares Hamlet. Laertes warns Ophelia not to trust

Hamlets professions of love but to consider it ‘‘A violet in the youth of primy

nature, / Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, / The perfume and

suppliance of minute, / No more’’ (1.3.7--10). (The violet is also ‘‘forward’’ or

early-blooming in Sonnets 99.) In her mad scene, Ophelia hands out several

kinds of flowers, and ends by saying (perhaps to the King), ‘‘I would give you

some violets, but they withered all when my father died’’ (4.5.184--85), thus

linking the loss of her love for Hamlet with her fathers death at his hands. At

her funeral, Laertes tells the priest, ‘‘Lay her ith earth, / And from her fair

and unpolluted flesh / May violets spring’’ (5.1.238--40). This last passage echoes

Persius lines, ‘‘Will not violets now spring up from the tomb and its blessed

ashes?’’ (Satires 1.39--40); both passages underlie Tennysons wish, ‘‘From his

ashes may be made / The violet of his native land’’ (In Memoriam 18.3--4).

The mourner at Keatss funeral in Shelleys Adonais had his head ‘‘bound

with pansies overblown, / And faded violets, white, and pied, and blue’’

(289--90), evoking not only the decorum of the dead but the transience or

brevity of Keatss life, as well as the fact that he died in late February, when

violets (in Italy) might begin blooming, and that Shelley wrote the elegy in

April and May, when the violets will have faded. Keats himself wrote of ‘‘fast

fading violets coverd up in leaves’’ in his Ode to a Nightingale 47. A ‘‘violet past

prime’’ is one of Shakespeares examples of beauty wasted by Time (Sonnets 12).

Laertes use of ‘‘unpolluted’’ reminds us of another association of the violet,

that of faithfulness in love, not particularly what we might expect from

Aphrodite or Dionysus. Perhaps because of its ‘‘retiring’’ nature, its preference

for out-of-the-way shady places, the violet acquired a reputation for modesty

and ‘‘perfect chastity’’ (see Lydgate, Troy Book 3.4380). Meredith combines the

sweet perfume of the violet with virginity: ‘‘She breathed the violet breath of

maidenhood’’ (Modern Love 40).

In post-classical European poetry, the timidity, humility, and neglect of the

violet came to the forefront of its symbolic meanings. Goethe, thinking of

young maidens, writes of a Veilchen (violet) ‘‘bowed in itself and unknown’’ and

of another that he treasures because ‘‘it is so shy.’’ Humble and timide are

frequent epithets of the violet in French poetry. In English, Thomson calls it

‘‘lowly’’ (Spring 448), and Wordsworth several times refers to its secrecy, most

notably in his simile for Lucy, in ‘‘She dwelt among thuntrodden ways’’: ‘‘A

Violet by a mossy stone / Half-hidden from the Eye!’’ It is probably the violet

Wordsworth means in the final line of Miscellaneous Sonnets 2.9: ‘‘The flower of

sweetest smell is shy and lowly.’’ Keats writes of ‘‘that Queen / Of secrecy, the

violet’’ (‘‘Blue!’’ 11--12), and Hood calls them ‘‘Those veiled nuns, meek violets’’

(‘‘Plea of the Midsummer Fairies’’ 318). We still use the phrase ‘‘shrinking

violets’’ of shy girls, but Moore seems to be evoking the fragility and

transience of the shade-loving plant in his simile, ‘‘Shrinking as violets do in

summers ray’’ (Lalla Rookh 2.294).

A common epithet of ‘‘violet’’ is ‘‘sweet’’ (twice, for example, in Spensers

Shepherd’s Calendar); common also are other terms evoking its rich odor

(‘‘fragrant,’’ for example, in FQ 3.1.36). Perhaps because of its similarly strong

aroma or its common association with Aphrodite, the rose is frequently

coupled with the violet; the ancients twined the two flowers together into

spring garlands. The Romans had a festival in early summer much like the

one in March, called the Rosalia or Rosaria, when one placed roses on the

graves. Our trite Valentines Day jingle ‘‘Roses are red, violets are blue,’’ goes

back centuries; Spenser names ‘‘roses red, and violets blew,’’ as among the

‘‘sweetest flowres’’ (FQ 3.6.6). Miltons Zephyr mates with Aurora ‘‘on Beds of

Violets blue, / And fresh-blown Roses washt in dew’’ (L’Allegro 21--22). At the

erotic climax of Keatss Eve of St. Agnes the lover melts into his beloveds

dream, ‘‘as the rose / Blendeth its odour with the violet, -- / Solution sweet’’


See Pansy, Purple flower.

Viper see Serpent

Volcano The Greeks did not have a word for volcanoes, nor did the Romans (‘‘volcano’’

is Italian, from Latin Vulcanus the god), but they were both very familiar with

them. In Greek myth volcanoes and earthquakes are caused by the belching of

a subterranean giant or by his efforts to turn over or rise up. Hesiod tells how

the enormous, hundred-headed, fire-flashing monster Typhoeus (elsewhere

Typhon) challenged Zeus after his defeat of the Titans; after a vast struggle

Zeus hurled Typhoeus, still flaming, into the gulf of Tartarus (Theogony 820--68).

Pindar says that the monster is buried under Mt. Etna (Greek Aitna) in Sicily,

and ‘‘Thence erupt pure founts of unapproachable fire / from the secret places

within . . . . / The monster hurls aloft such spouts / of weird flame; a portent

and a wonder to behold’’ (Pyth. 1.15--28, trans. Lattimore). Ovid imagines him

supine: ‘‘Etna weighs down his head, / Where, face upturned, his fierce throat

vomits forth / Cinder and flames’’ (Met. 5.351--53). Virgil memorably describes

an eruption of Etna and then refers to the legend that the giant Enceladus is

buried under it: ‘‘ponderous Etna piled upon him / breathes forth flame from

its bursting furnaces’’ (Aeneid 3.579--80; see also Statius, Thebaid 3.594--96). Virgil

also says that the Cyclopes have their workshop in a cave under Etna (Georgics

4.169--73) or near it on an island off Sicily called Vulcania (still called Vulcano

today) (Aeneid 8.416--23); they work for Vulcan the smith god. The Cyclopes may

be ‘‘the sons of Vulcan’’ who ‘‘vomit smoke’’ in Miltons Comus 655.

New theories of volcanic action in the eighteenth century and new eruptions

of Etna, Vesuvius, and Hecla brought new literary interest in volcanoes;

by late in the century the volcano came to symbolize three explosive processes

central to Romantic concerns, revolution, passion, and poetry. The first is

really implicit in the classical stories; indeed some have argued that they were

originally allegories, the hundred-headed monster standing for the mob or

masses and Zeus/Jupiter for monarchy. Spensers simile for Arthurs surge of

strength uses the figure of an emprisoned nobleman: ‘‘Like as a fire, the

which in hollow cave / Hath long bene underkept and down supprest, / With

murmurous disdayne doth inly rave, / And grudge in such streight prison to

be prest, / At last breakes forth with furious unrest, / And strives to mount

unto his native seat’’ (FQ 2.11.32). Blakes character Orc, who represents revolutionary

energy, is figured as a volcano: ‘‘The Cave of Orc stood to the South a

furnace of dire flames / Quenchless unceasing’’ (Four Zoas 74.14--15); his other

name is Luvah, which is possibly a pun on ‘‘lava.’’ The narrator of Shelleys

Revolt of Islam vows, ‘‘I will arise and waken / The multitude, and like a sulphurous

hill, / Which on a sudden from its snows has shaken / The swoon of ages,

it shall burst and fill / The world with cleansing fire’’ (784--88). In Italy Shelley

wrote, ‘‘We are surrounded here in Pisa by revolutionary volcanos . . . the lava

has not yet reached Tuscany’’ (letter to Peacock, 21 March 1821). His character

Demogorgon, who overthrows the tyrant Jupiter, resembles the hot magma

under a volcano (PU, Act 2). A remark by the Count de Salvandy just before the

Naples revolution of 1830 is often quoted by German and French writers: ‘‘We

are dancing on a volcano.’’ Concerning the build-up to the July Revolution in

France (also 1830), Hugo writes, ‘‘Thinkers were meditating . . . turning over

social questions, peacefully, but profoundly: impassive miners, who were

quietly digging their galleries into the depths of a volcano, scarcely disturbed

by the muffled commotions and the half-seen glow of lava’’ (Les Misйrables


A passionate personality is tempestuous, fiery, volcanic. So Drydens Antony

is described by Dolabella: ‘‘He heaved for vent, and burst like bellowing Aetna’’

(All for Love 4.1.162). Chateaubriands Rene would sometimes blush suddenly

and feel ‘‘streams of burning lava (lave ardente)’’ roll in his heart (Renй,

Prologue). Gazing into the depths of the active crater of Vesuvius, de Staels

Lord Nelvil reveals to Corinne the depths of his soul, and wonders if he is

looking at hell (Corinne 11.4, 13.1). Byrons Byronic character Christian ‘‘stood /

Like an extinct volcano in his mood; / Silent, and sad, and savage, -- with the

trace / Of passion reeking from his clouded face’’ (The Island 3.139--42).

Elsewhere Byron treats the volcano image itself as extinct: ‘‘But Adeline was

not indifferent: for / (Now for a common-place!) beneath the snow, / As a

volcano holds the lava more / Within -- et caetera. Shall I go on? -- No / I hate to

hunt down a tired metaphor, / So let the often-used volcano go. / Poor thing!’’

(Don Juan 13.281--87). Yet it lived on, for example in Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre,

where both Jane and Rochester are described in volcanic terms; e.g., ‘‘To live,

for me, Jane, is to stand on a crater crust which may crack and spue fire any

day’’ (chap. 20).

The active Mexican volcano Popocatepetl, with its snow-capped peak and

plumes of smoke, is the major symbol of Lowrys novel Under the Volcano. As he

dies of gunshot wounds the Consul, the protagonist, whose life has been one

of passionate self-destruction, imagines he is climbing it and then falling into

its erupting abyss. At the same time it represents the world, poised, in 1938,

on the brink of World War II.

If poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, as Wordsworth

famously says, then it is only a step from eruptions of passion to explosions of

verse. Perhaps the earliest instance of the volcanic poet is found in Cazottes Le

Diable amoureux (1772): ‘‘my imagination is a volcano’’ (p. 355). Lamartine

writes, ‘‘the lava of my genius / overflows in torrents of harmony, / And

consumes me as it escapes’’ (‘‘LEnthousiasme’’ 28--30). Byron defines poetry as

‘‘the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earth-quake’’ (letter

to Annabella Millbanke, 29 November 1813). E. B. Brownings poet-heroine

Aurora Leigh speaks of the ‘‘burning lava of a song’’ (5.214). Emily Dickinson

might be speaking of emotion or of poetry when she writes, ‘‘On my volcano

grows the Grass / A meditative spot -- / . . . / How red the Fire rocks below -- /

How insecure the sod / Did I disclose / Would populate with awe my solitude’’

(no. 1677). Matthew Arnolds Empedocles, on the edge of Etnas crater that still

brims with life, feels dead to hope and joy: ‘‘Oh, that I could glow like this

mountain!’’ he cries; then with a last glowing of his soul he leaps into the

crater (Empedocles on Etna 2.323, 412).

See Cave, Fire.