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A

Absinthe see Wormwood

Adder see Serpent

Aeolian harp The aeolian harp (or lyre) or wind harp was invented by the German Jesuit

Athanasius Kircher and described by him in 1650. It is a long, narrow wooden

box with a thin belly and with eight to twelve strings stretched over two

bridges and tuned in unison; it is to be placed in a window (or a grotto) where

the wind will draw out a harmonious sound. (Aeolus is the Greek king in

charge of the winds; he first appears in Homers Odyssey 10.) In the next

century James Oswald, a Scots composer and cellist, made one, and it soon

became well known.

It just as soon became an irresistible poetic symbol, first in English, then in

French and German. James Thomson described the harp in The Castle of

Indolence: ‘‘A certain Musick, never known before, / Here soothd the pensive

melancholy Mind; / Full easily obtaind. Behoves no more, / But sidelong, to the

gently-waving Wind, / To lay the well-tund Instrument reclind; / From which,

with airy flying Fingers light, / Beyond each mortal Touch the most refind, /

The God of Winds drew Sounds of deep Delight: / Whence, with just Cause,

The Harp of Aeolus it hight’’ (1.352--60). Thomson also wrote an ‘‘Ode on Aeoluss

Harp.’’ It was already so well known by the 1750s that the opening line of

Grays ‘‘Progress of Poetry’’ -- ‘‘Awake, Aeolian lyre, awake’’ -- was misconstrued;

Gray added a note quoting Pindars ‘‘Aeolian song’’ and ‘‘Aeolian strings’’ to

make clear that he was referring to a mode of Greek music, not the wind

harp. (To the ancients, however, ‘‘Aeolian lyre’’ might refer to Sappho and

Alcaeus, whose lyrics were in the Aeolian dialect of Greek.)

In poetry any harp can become an aeolian harp if suspended in the open

air. Alluding to Psalm 137, where the exiled Jews ‘‘hanged our harps upon the

willows’’ by the rivers of Babylon, William Cowper ends his long poem

‘‘Expostulation’’ by calling on his muse to ‘‘hang this harp upon yon aged

beech, / Still murmring with the solemn truths I teach’’ (718--19).

Among the English Romantics the wind harp became a favorite image,

capable of many extensions. In ‘‘The Eolian Harp,’’ perhaps the most extended

poetic treatment of the subject, Coleridge is prompted by the harps ‘‘soft

floating witchery of sound’’ (20) to consider ‘‘the one Life within us and

abroad, / Which meets all motion and becomes its soul’’ (26--27), and then

speculates: ‘‘And what if all of animated nature / Be but organic Harps

diversely framd, / That tremble into thought, as oer them sweeps / Plastic and

vast, one intellectual breeze, / At once the Soul of each, and God of all?’’

(44--48). Coleridge may have been influenced by the associationist psychology

of David Hartley, according to whom sensation depends on ‘‘vibrations’’

carried by the nerves to the brain, where new but fainter vibrations are

created. Diderot, in D’Alembert’s Dream, has a similar but more explicitly

musical model of sensation and memory, as does Herder, in Kalligone.

Both Wordsworth and Coleridge used the metaphor of the internal breeze

or breath responding to the inspiration of a natural wind. So Wordsworth

begins the 1805 Prelude, ‘‘Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze,’’ where the

breeze serves as a kind of epic muse; a little later he reflects, ‘‘For I,

methought, while the sweet breath of Heaven / Was blowing on my body, felt

within / A corresponding mild creative breeze, / A vital breeze . . . ’’ (41--44) and

then likens himself to an aeolian harp (103--07). In ‘‘Dejection,’’ Coleridge

compares himself to an ‘‘AEolian lute, / Which better far were mute’’ (7--8).

Shelley has frequent recourse to the image (e.g., Queen Mab 1.52--53, Alastor

42--45, 667--68) and extends it in interesting ways. It is quietly implicit in Queen

Mab 8.19--20: ‘‘The dulcet music swelled / Concordant with the life-strings of

the soul.’’ He develops an idea in Coleridges ‘‘Dejection,’’ where the raving

wind is told that a crag or tree or grove would make fitter instruments than

the lute, by imagining that the winds come to the pines to hear the harmony

of their swinging (‘‘Mont Blanc’’ 20--24); in his ‘‘Ode to the West Wind’’ he

implores the wind to ‘‘Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is’’ (57). In his

‘‘Defence of Poetry,’’ Shelley explicitly likens man to an aeolian lyre, but adds

‘‘there is a principle within the human being . . . which acts otherwise than in

the lyre, and produces not melody, alone, but harmony, by an internal

adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which

excite them.’’

The aeolian harp enters French poetry with Andre Cheniers Elйgies (no. 22):

‘‘I am the absolute owner of my memory; / I lend it a voice, powerful

magician, / Like an aeolian harp in the evening breezes, / And each of my

senses resounds to this voice.’’ It appears as similes in the influential romantic

novels Les Natchez by Chateaubriand and Corinne by Germaine de Stael.

In Germany, Holderlin in ‘‘Die Wanderung’’ (‘‘The Migration’’) makes the

link Shelley makes: ‘‘and the forests / All rustled, every lyre / In unison / At

heavens gentle touch’’ (trans. Sieburth). Goethe stages a brief ‘‘Conversation’’

between two Aeolian harps, male and female, and Schiller alludes to the harp

in ‘‘The Dignity of Women.’’ The song of Ariel that opens Goethes Faust, Part II

is accompanied by aeolian harps. Half a century later Morike writes ‘‘To an

Aeolian Harp,’’ where the wind blows from the green tomb of ‘‘the youth I

loved so much’’: ‘‘As the wind gusts more briskly, / A lovely cry of the harp /

Repeats, to my sweet dismay, / The sudden emotion of my soul.’’ The Russian

poet Tyutchev hears a harp at midnight grieving like a fallen angel; for a

moment we feel faith and joy, ‘‘as if the sky flowed through our veins,’’ but it

cannot last, and we sink back into ‘‘wearisome dreams’’ (‘‘The Gleam’’, trans.

Bidney).

In America, Emerson praises the one sure musician whose wisdom will not

fail, the Aeolian harp, which ‘‘trembles to the cosmic breath’’ and which alone

of all poets can utter ‘‘These syllables that Nature spoke’’ (‘‘The Harp’’). Thoreau

wrote ‘‘Rumors from an Aeolian Harp,’’ a song from a harp, not about one, and

in Walden he employs the metaphor several times. As a theme or allusion, the

harp seems to have lingered longer in America than elsewhere, appearing as

late as 1888 in a poem by Melville, ‘‘The Aeolian Harp at the Surf Inn.’’

Kircher noted that several sounds may be produced by one string,

suggesting that the string is to the wind as a prism to light, breaking up a

unified motion or essence into its component parts. William Jones developed

the theory that ‘‘the Eolian harp may be considered as an air-prism.’’ That

idea may account for the connection between the aeolian harp and the ‘‘Harp

of Memnon,’’ which was thought to be concealed within a colossal statue of

an Egyptian pharoah and would sound when the first ray of sunlight struck it

each morning. ‘‘For as old Memnons image,’’ Akenside writes, ‘‘long

renownd / By fabling Nilus, to the quivering touch / Of Titans ray, with each

repulsive string / Consenting, sounded through the warbling air / Unbidden

strains; even so did Natures hand / To certain species of external things, /

Attune the finer organs of the mind’’ (Pleasures of Imagination 109--15). Amelia

Opie mentions Memnons harp in her ‘‘Stanzas Written under Aeolus Harp.’’

Byron lightly alludes to Memnon, ‘‘the Ethiop king / Whose statue turns a

harper once a day’’ (Deformed Transformed 1.531--32).

At least two composers have written music ‘‘for’’ an aeolian harp: the

Romantics Berlioz, in his Lйlio (opus 14b), and Chopin, in his Etude opus 25,

no. 1.

Air see Breath, Wind

Albatross The albatross, of which there are several species, is a large web-footed bird

with a hooked beak and narrow wings, found mainly in the southern oceans.

The white Wandering Albatross, with a wing span of thirteen feet, is the best

known; when it follows a ship it is a striking sight, and sailors have long

considered it a bird of good omen.

The first half of the name seems to derive from Latin albus, ‘‘white,’’ but the

b was inserted into ‘‘alcatras,’’ from Portuguese alcatraz, used of the albatross,

cormorant, frigate bird, or pelican, from Arabic al-ghattas, the white-tailed

sea-eagle.

As early as the sixth century there are records of the bird following ships.

The most famous albatross in literature is the one in Coleridges Rime of the

Ancient Mariner; since then ‘‘albatross’’ has come to mean a burden of guilt or

sin. Melville, in Moby-Dick, chapter 42, has a memorable description of an

albatross. It was believed that albatrosses can sleep while in flight; so Hugo

likens Chateaubriand to the bird, for he soars calmly above the turmoil of the

earth (‘‘Le Genie’’ 128--30). Baudelaire, in L’Albatros, likens a poet, ‘‘exiled on

the ground,’’ his wings clipped, to an albatross captured by sailors.

Almond The almond tree blooms earlier than any other -- as early as January in

Palestine, March in England; it is prima omnium, ‘‘first of all,’’ according to

Pliny (Natural History 16.103). It can thus symbolize springs arrival, or more

precisely a prophecy of its arrival.

The Lord asks Jeremiah what he sees, and he replies, ‘‘I see a rod of an

almond tree.’’ The Lord says, ‘‘Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word

to perform it’’ (Jer. 1.11--12). Rather mysterious in English, this passage depends

on a Hebrew pun on ‘‘almond’’ (shaqed) and ‘‘hasten’’ (or ‘‘watch,’’ ‘‘be diligent’’)

(shoqed): almonds are watchful, hastening to blossom. ‘‘ ‘Tis a fair tree, the

almond-tree: there Spring / Shews the first promise of her rosy wreath,’’ as

 

Letitia Landon writes (‘‘Death in the Flower’’ 1--2). Shelley makes a

‘‘lightning-blasted almond-tree’’ which nonetheless scatters blossoms stand for

the renewal of hope after the defeat of the prophetic French Revolution (PU

2.1.134--35).

Calderon brings out the notion of premature blossoming. Segismund wants

no more false displays ‘‘that one gust / Can scatter like the almond tree in

flower, / Whose rosy buds, without advice or warning, / Dawn in the air too

soon’’ (Life is a Dream 3.3.2330--33; trans. Campbell).

The rod of Aaron is made from an almond tree; when it alone among all

the other rods flowers and yields almonds, it is a sign of the Lords favor:

Aaron is chosen to be priest (Num. 17.1--10). This passage lies behind artists

use of an almond-shaped aureole, the mandorla (Italian for ‘‘almond’’), behind

representations of Christ and Mary, the chosen ones.

The white blossoms of the almond tree suggested hair to the author of

Ecclesiastes: ‘‘the almond tree shall flourish’’ means ‘‘their hair shall turn

white’’ as they grow old (12.5). In the last part of ‘‘Of the Four Ages of Man,’’

Anne Bradstreet explains, ‘‘Mine Almond tree, grey hairs, doe flourish now’’

(417).

Amaranth The amaranth or amaranthus is an eternal flower. The word is a ‘‘correction’’

of the Greek participle amarantos, ‘‘unfading’’; taken as a noun naming a

flower the ending was respelled as if it were anthos, ‘‘flower.’’ Lucian describes

a fresco painting of a flowery meadow in spring which, as a painting, is thus

‘‘eternal spring and unfading (amarantos) meadow’’ (‘‘The Hall’’ 9). Peter uses it

twice in his first letter: through the resurrection we are begotten again to an

inheritance ‘‘that fadeth not away’’ (1.4), and we shall receive ‘‘a crown of

glory that fadeth not away’’ (5.4). Miltons angels wear crowns woven with

amaranth, ‘‘Immortal Amarant, a Flowr which once / In Paradise, fast by the

tree of life / Began to bloom, but soon for mans offence / To heaven removed’’

(PL 3.353--56). Milton made it so distinctively the flower of Paradise (lost) that

Tennyson has a painter describe a flower that ‘‘only blooms in heaven / With

Miltons amaranth’’ (‘‘Romneys Remorse’’ 106).

In English poetry, then, it became symbolic of Paradise or eternity and of

the Christian hope of salvation. So Cowper writes ‘‘Hope . . . // On steady wings

sails through thimmense abyss, / Plucks amaranthine joys from bowrs of

bliss’’ (‘‘Hope’’ 161--64). Wordsworth claims that the imagination has the power

‘‘to pluck the amaranthine flower / Of Faith’’ (sonnet: ‘‘Weak is the will of

Man’’). The Prometheus of the non-Christian Shelley ‘‘waked the legioned

hopes / Which sleep within folded Elysian flowers, / Nepenthe, Moly,

Amaranth, fadeless blooms’’ (PU 2.4.59--61). So when Coleridge, in his poignant

‘‘Work without Hope,’’ writes, ‘‘Well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,

/ . . . / Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may, / For me ye bloom not,’’

we know it is not an earthly meadow he has lost; he is in spiritual despair.

Sainte-Beuve gives it a somewhat different meaning, as the ‘‘symbol of

virtue that never fades’’ (Causeries du lundi, vol. 8 [1851--62], p. 142).

Amphisbaena see Serpent

Anchor Any use of a ship as a symbol or metaphor may include the anchor as the sign

of safety. In a Christian context, the anchor has become a symbol of hope,

especially the hope of salvation. The source is a passage in the Epistle to the

Hebrews concerning ‘‘the hope set before us’’ in the sworn promise of God:

‘‘Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast’’

(6.18--19). The cruciform shape of many anchors seconded their connection

with the Savior.

Spensers character Speranza (Hope) has a silver anchor on her arm, upon

which she teaches the Redcross Knight ‘‘to take assured hold’’ (FQ 1.10.14, 22).

Cowpers poem ‘‘Hope’’ includes the anchor among many metaphors: ‘‘Hope,

as an anchor firm and sure, holds fast / the Christian vessel, and defies the

blast’’ (167--68). The Alpine peasant, according to Wordsworth, is unmoved by

perils, ‘‘Fixed on the anchor left by Him who saves / Alike in whelming snows

and roaring waves’’ (Descriptive Sketches 206--07). Tennysons Enoch Arden, a

sailor, tells his wife, as he departs, ‘‘Cast all your cares on God; that anchor

holds’’ (222).

See Ship.

Animal see Beast

Anointing see Oil

Ant (or Emmet) The ant is known for its wisdom, prudence, or foresight. ‘‘Go to the ant, thou

sluggard,’’ the Book of Proverbs advises; ‘‘consider her ways, and be wise’’ (6.6).

‘‘The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer’’

(30.25).

Hesiod calls the ant the ‘‘wise one’’ for ‘‘gathering stores’’ (Works and Days

778). Virgil says the ‘‘ant fears a lean old age’’ (Georgics 1.186). Horace expands:

‘‘the tiny ant with immense industry . . . / hauls whatever he can with his

mouth and adds it to the heap / he is building, thus making conscious and

careful provision for the future’’ (Satires 1.1.33--35, trans. Rudd). In a double

simile Ovid cites a column of ants carrying grain and a swarm of bees

hovering over thyme (Ars Amatoria 1.93--96). Among the gifts each animal gave

to man, according to Sidney, the ant gave ‘‘industrie’’ (Third Eclogues 66.93).

Milton names ‘‘The parsimonious emmet, provident / Of future, . . . /. . . joined

in her popular tribes / Of commonalty’’ (PL 7.485--89). Wild nature, says

Wordsworth, ‘‘to the emmet gives / Her foresight, and intelligence that

makes / The tiny creatures strong by social league’’ (Excursion 4.430--32). The

fable of the industrious ant and the improvident grasshopper goes back to

Aesop.

The social side of the ant noted by Milton and Wordsworth has a repellent

side exploited by Wordsworth himself when he describes London as a

‘‘monstrous ant-hill on the plain / Of a too busy world!’’ (1850 Prelude 7.149--50).

Baudelaire calls Paris Fourmillante citй, ‘‘swarming city’’ (from fourmi, ‘‘ant’’)

(‘‘Les Sept Vieillards’’), in a line T. S. Eliot footnotes in The Waste Land (60).

The word ‘‘ant’’ comes from Old English aemette, akin to ‘‘emmet.’’

Ape The Greeks and the Romans considered apes ridiculous, strange, ugly, and

somewhat dangerous, and ‘‘ape’’ was a common term of abuse. A passage from

Heraclitus, who stressed the superiority of the gods, rests on this

contemptuous view of apes: ‘‘The handsomest ape is ugly compared with

humankind; the wisest man appears as an ape when compared with a god’’ (in

Plato, Hippias Major 289a, trans. Wheelwright). In this may lie the germ of the

notion that apes imitate people; in any case they resemble us. ‘‘The ape [Latin

simia], that most repulsive animal,’’ said Ennius, ‘‘how much it is like [similis]

ourselves!’’ (Saturae, quoted in Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.35). Horace refers to

‘‘that ape of yours who knows nothing but how to imitate Calvus and

Catullus’’ (Sermones 1.10.18--19). The word simia is not related to similis but the

connection seemed natural: apes are simulators, imitators. In English and

other languages ‘‘to ape’’ is to imitate: ‘‘monkey see, monkey do.’’

An alchemist in Dantes Inferno, that is, a counterfeiter, proudly calls

himself ‘‘a fine ape of nature’’ (29.139). In Chaucer some musicians begin to

watch others and ‘‘countrefete hem [them] as an ape’’ (House of Fame 1212). The

painter Julio Romano is praised in Shakespeares Winter’s Tale as capable of

depriving nature of her trade, ‘‘so perfectly he is her ape’’ (5.2.98). Cowper

looks forward to a world where ‘‘smooth good-breeding’’ will no longer ‘‘With

lean performance ape the work of love!’’ (Task 6.853--54).

Not all languages distinguish ‘‘ape’’ and ‘‘monkey,’’ but in English literature

monkeys as opposed to apes are often taken as lecherous. Shakespeare, for

instance, has ‘‘lecherous as a monkey’’ and ‘‘hot as monkeys’’ (2H4 3.2.293,

Othello 3.3.409).

Apple The most famous apple in western culture, the one from the Tree of

Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, has a slender basis in the Bible. In Genesis

3.3 it is simply ‘‘the fruit’’; perhaps it is a fig, for right after Adam and Eve eat

it they stitch together fig leaves for clothing (3.7). It is not certain, in any case,

that apples were known in ancient Israel. How the fateful fruit got to be an

apple is a long story, complicated by the fact that the Greek word for it (melon,

or malon) meant any sort of tree-fruit; thus the ‘‘Armenian melon’’ was an

apricot, the ‘‘Cydonian melon’’ was a quince, the ‘‘Median melon’’ was a citron,

and the ‘‘Persian melon’’ was a peach; in modern Cyprus a ‘‘golden apple’’ is an

apricot; and in English a ‘‘melon’’ is not much like an apple. Latin pomum had

a similar range, as we see in its daughter languages: French pomme de terre

(‘‘apple of earth’’) is a potato, pomme d’amour (‘‘apple of love’’) is a tomato,

Italian pomodoro (‘‘apple of gold’’) is a tomato; ‘‘pomegranate’’ comes from Old

French pome grenate, ‘‘seedy apple.’’ When Latin borrowed the Greek word

(becoming malum), a pun on the common word for ‘‘evil’’ may have influenced

Christian speculation. In Miltons influential version of the Fall it is an ‘‘apple’’

(PL 9.585, 10.487), though we cannot be sure if he means the common

crab-apple or the generic tree-fruit.

It would be enough to suit the biblical story that the ‘‘apple’’ is alluring and

tasty, but in both Hebrew and classical tradition the fruit is associated with

sexual love, which Adam and Eve discover, in some interpretations, after

eating it. Apples are mentioned three times with erotic senses in the Song of

Solomon; e.g., ‘‘As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my

beloved among the sons [young men]’’ (2.3; cf. 7.8, 8.5) (the Hebrew word

tappuah also has a broad sense). This passage resembles one in Sappho -- ‘‘As

the sweet-apple reddens on the top of the bough, the top of the topmost; the

apple-gatherers have forgotten it -- no, not forgotten it but were unable to

reach it’’ -- which we are told by Himerius is a simile for a girl (frag. 105

Campbell). Throwing an apple or similar tree-fruit was a signal of readiness to

be seduced (e.g., Aristophanes, Clouds 997; Virgil, Eclogues 3.64). Echoing

Sappho, Yeats imagines that Dante became a great poet out of ‘‘A hunger for

the apple on the bough, / Most out of reach,’’ which must mean his Beatrice

(‘‘Ego Dominus Tuus’’ 24--25). Frosts ‘‘After Apple-Picking,’’ with its ladder

‘‘Toward heaven,’’ the worthlessness of apples that have fallen, and the

coming of winter and sleep, stirs echoes of biblical meanings.

In classical myth another famous apple is the Apple of Discord (or Eris),

which she tosses among the three goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite at

the wedding of Peleus and Thetis; it is labeled ‘‘For the fairest,’’ and each

goddess claims it. The ultimate result is the Trojan War. There are also the

golden apples of the Hesperides, guarded by a dragon, whom Heracles

slays.

One of the women in Aristophanes Lysistrata recalls that Menelaus, bent on

killing Helen, took one look at her ‘‘apples’’ and threw away his sword (155). A

girl in Theocritus asks her wooer why he has put his hand on her breasts; he

replies, ‘‘I will give your downy apples their first lesson’’ (27.49--50). The breasts

of Ariostos Alcina are ‘‘unripe apples’’ (Orlando Furioso 7.14). According to

Tasso, in the Golden Age before shame took effect a virgin would reveal ‘‘the

apples of her breast’’ (‘‘O bella eta de loro’’). Spenser compares his beloveds

breasts to two golden apples, which surpass those that Hercules found (in the

Hesperides) and those that enticed Atalanta (Amoretti 77). These latter, Ovid

tells us, were picked by Venus herself (Met. 10.647--52). In the Walpurgisnight,

Faust tells a young witch he had a dream that he climbed a tree to reach two

fine apples; she answers that men have wanted apples ever since Paradise, and

happily she has some in her garden (Faust I 4128--35).

Josephus describes a fruit near the Dead Sea that looks like an apple but is

filled with dry, hairy seeds; later it was called a Sodom apple and thought to

be filled with the ashes of that sinful city. As fit punishment for leading Eve

to eat the forbidden apple, Milton has Satans legions climb trees to eat fruit

‘‘like that which grew / Near that bituminous lake where Sodom flamed,’’ but

they ‘‘instead of fruit / Chewed bitter ashes’’ (PL 10.561--66). The chorus of

women accompanying Helen to Fausts castle finds the boys there attractive,

with cheeks like peaches: ‘‘I would gladly have a bite, but I shudder before it; /

for in a similar case, the mouth was filled, / horrible to say, with ashes!’’ (Faust

II 9162--64).

The ‘‘apple of the eye’’ is the pupil, and by extension any intimate or

cherished object. The Lord guarded Jacob ‘‘as the apple of his eye’’ (Deut.

32.10). Shakespeares Oberon, squeezing the love-juice on Demetrius eyelids,

asks it to ‘‘Sink in apple of his eye. / When his love he doth espy, / Let her

shine as gloriously / As the Venus of the sky’’ (MND 3.2.104--07).

In some accounts of the Crucifixion, Christ, as the antitype of Adam (1 Cor.

15.22), restores the apple Eve plucked. In a witty variant Byron claims that

Isaac Newton was ‘‘the sole mortal who could grapple, / Since Adam, with a

fall, or with an apple.’’ Since Newtons theories, he predicts, will some day

show us how to fly to the moon, it can be said that ‘‘Man fell with apples, and

with apples rose’’ (Don Juan 10.1--16).

April April is the quintessential month of spring -- ‘‘Aperil . . . of lusty Veer [Spring]

the pryme,’’ according to Chaucer (Troilus 1.156--57) -- and most of the

traditional imagery of the season has been given to the month.

Ovid gives two etymologies of the months name. (1) From Latin aperio

‘‘open’’: ‘‘They say that April was named from the open season, because spring

then opens (aperit) all things, and the sharp frost-bound cold departs, and

earth unlocks her teeming soil’’ (Fasti 4.87--89, trans. Frazer). (2) From Greek

aphros, the foam of the sea from which Aphrodite was born (Fasti 4.61--62). The

latter may well be on the right track, for April is the month of Venus (Fasti

4.85ff., Horace 4.11.15--16), and the name may derive from Etruscan apru, a

shortening of Aphrodite (as March comes from Mars and May from Maia,

mother of Mercury, god of spring).

The most famous description of April in English literature is the opening of

the Prologue to Chaucers Canterbury Tales: ‘‘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 . . . ’’ (1--4). The

months ‘‘sweet showers’’ are a commonplace. The proverb ‘‘April showers

bring May flowers’’ has been current at least since 1560; Shakespeares Iris

sings of ‘‘spongy April’’ (Tempest 4.1.65); Wordsworth has a character invoke ‘‘Ye

rains of April’’ (Excursion 7.701).

As the month of Venus it is the month of love. Spenser begins a stanza on

the month by calling it ‘‘fresh Aprill, full of lustyhed’’ (FQ 7.7.33). Of Octavia

weeping at her parting from Caesar, Shakespeares Antony says, ‘‘The Aprils in

her eyes: it is loves spring, / And these the showers to bring it on’’ (Antony

3.2.43--44). Shelley describes a beautiful woman as ‘‘A vision like incarnate

April, warning, / With smiles and tears, Frost the Anatomy [skeleton] / Into his

summer grave’’ (Epipsychidion 121--23). The spring or prime of ones life might

be called ones April: ‘‘I lived free in the April of my life, / Exempt from care’’

(Sceve, Dйlie, ‘‘Dizains’’ 1).

The other famous description of April begins T. S. Eliots The Waste Land:

‘‘April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing /

Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain’’ (1--4). It is a measure

of how far modern life has lost its traditional foundation, in Eliots view, that

we now shrink from the renewal of life and love that April once brought.

See Spring.

Armor In medieval chivalric romances, the armor of the hero, and especially his

shield or ‘‘escutcheon,’’ is often lovingly described and invested with great

significance. The elaborate language of heraldry or armorial bearings -- the

points, tinctures, bends, chevrons, fesses, pales, piles, and lions couchant,

rampant, regardant, or salient -- enters the literature, too, but it is beyond the

scope of this dictionary. Less technical symbolic meanings of armor, or

changes of armor, are usually unique to each work. It is of great significance,

for instance, that Achilles first set of armor belonged to his father Peleus, is

then lent to his friend Patroclus, who is killed in it by Hector, and is then

worn by Hector, who is killed in it by Achilles, who now wears a new set made

by the god Hephaestus. Achilles shield, extensively described in Book 18 of the

Iliad, carries a complex set of typical scenes (such as wedding, legal dispute,

and siege) in a cosmic setting. The parallel description of Aeneas shield in

book 8 of the Aeneid is not typical and cosmic but historical, as if Aeneas

shoulders the future history of Rome. In Spensers Faerie Queene, Arthurs

‘‘glitterand armour’’ was made by Merlin (1.7.29--36), while Britomarts once

belonged to Angela, the Saxon Queen (3.3.58); both express the virtues of their

bearers.

Central to the language of Christianity is the metaphor of ‘‘spiritual

warfare’’ and its accompanying armor. It is fully expressed in Pauls Letter to

the Ephesians. Since Christians do not fight against flesh and blood but

against spiritual wickedness, ‘‘Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of

God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to

stand. / Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having

on the breastplate of righteousness; / And your feet shod with the preparation

of the gospel of peace; / Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye

shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. / And take the helmet

of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’’ (6.13--17;

cf. 2 Cor. 10.3--4). Clement of Alexandria wrote, ‘‘If the loud trumpet summons

soldiers to war, shall not Christ with a strain of peace to the ends of the earth

gather up his soldiers of peace? A bloodless army he has assembled by blood

and by the word, to give to them the Kingdom of Heaven. The trumpet of

Christ is his Gospel. He has sounded, we have heard. Let us then put on the

armor of peace’’ (Protrepticus 11.116). Erasmus continues the tradition: ‘‘If we

wish to conquer for Christ, let us gird on the sword of the word of the Gospel,

let us put on the helmet of salvation and take the shield of faith, and the rest

of the truly Apostolic panoply. Then it will come about that, when we are

conquered, we are conquerors all the more’’ (Dulce Bellum Inexpertis, in Adagia).

Beatrice tells Dante that, ‘‘to battle to enkindle faith, / the Gospels served

them [the Apostles] as both shield and lance’’ (Paradiso 29.113--14). Miltons

Michael tells Adam that God will send a Comforter to the people, ‘‘To guide

them in all truth, and also arm / With spiritual armour, able to resist / Satans

assaults’’ (PL 12.490--92). Even the atheist Shelley uses these terms: ‘‘And from

that hour did I with earnest thought / Heap knowledge from forbidden mines

of lore, / Yet nothing that my tyrant knew or taught / I cared to learn, but

from that secret store / Wrought linked armour for my soul, before / It might

walk forth to war among mankind’’ (‘‘Dedication’’ of Laon and Cythna, 37--42).

Arrow see Bow and arrow

Ash In Greece, where they are plentiful, ash trees were known for their strength

and for their excellence as firewood. The centaur Chiron gave Achilles father

Peleus a great spear made of Pelian ash (Homer, Iliad 16.143); in his catalogue

of trees Ovid calls the ash ‘‘useful for spear-shafts’’ (Met. 10.93), and Chaucer

perhaps follows him in listing ‘‘the hardy asshe’’ (Parliament of Fowls 176).

Angry over a trick by Prometheus, Zeus denied the power of fire to ash trees

(Hesiod, Theogony 563), implying they were the preferred firewood. There were

Meliae or ash-nymphs (e.g. Theogony 187), but they are not clearly distinguished

from the generic Dryads or tree-nymphs.

Hesiod says that the bronze race was made of ash trees (Works and Days 145),

and a similar tale is found in Norse mythology, where the first man is named

Ash (Askr) (‘‘Voluspa’’ 17 in The Poetic Edda). The world tree Yggdrasill, where

the fates deal out justice, is an ash (‘‘Voluspa’’ 19).

In his catalogue of trees Spenser mysteriously names ‘‘the Ash for nothing

ill’’ (FQ 1.1.9).

Asp see Serpent

Asphodel The asphodel is the flower of Hades. After speaking with Odysseus, the shade

of Achilles ‘‘stalked away in long strides across the meadow of asphodel’’

(Odyssey 11.539 trans. Lattimore, cf. 11.573). It is a lean, spiky plant with small,

pale flowers and gray leaves; it blooms throughout the winter in

Mediterranean regions. Pliny says it is planted on graves (Natural History 21.68).

Milton names asphodel beside nectar and ambrosia as having the power to

confer immortality (‘‘Comus’’ 838). Pope invokes ‘‘those happy souls who

dwell / In yellow meads of Asphodel’’ (‘‘Ode for Music’’ 74--75). Tennyson more

or less translates Homer in his ‘‘Demeter and Persephone’’: ‘‘the shadowy

warrior glide / Along the silent field of Asphodel’’ (150--51); in ‘‘The Lotos-

Eaters’’ he imagines ‘‘others in Elysian valleys dwell, / Resting weary limbs at

last on beds of asphodel’’ (169--70). W. C. Williams takes ‘‘asphodel, that greeny

flower,’’ as a symbol, or recurring occasion, of memory, poetry, and love in a

bleak world. ‘‘I was cheered,’’ he says near the opening, ‘‘when I came first to

know / that there were flowers also / in hell’’; he ends: ‘‘Asphodel / has no

odor / save to the imagination / but it too / celebrates the light. / It is late / but

an odor / as from our wedding / has revived for me / and begun again to

penetrate / into all crevices / of my world’’ (‘‘Asphodel, that greeny flower’’).

Ass As the preeminent beast of burden and the poor mans horse, the ass deserves

a better literary reputation, but since the Greeks at least it has stood for

stupidity. A string of insults in Terence gives a handy list of synonyms: stulto,

caudex, stipes, asinus, plumbeus (‘‘fool, blockhead, stumpwit, ass, leadbrain’’)

(Self-Tormentor 877). A shorter list is Shakespeares ‘‘Asses, fools, dolts’’ (Troilus

1.2.241). ‘‘What a thrice-double ass / Was I,’’ says Caliban, after his foolish

rebellion against Prospero (Tempest 5.1.295). When thick-witted King Midas

judges Pans pipes superior to Apollos lyre, Apollo gives him asss ears (Ovid,

Met. 11.144--93); asses are proverbially deaf to music, as to all intellectual

things.

As the horse could represent the willful or irrational part of the soul, so

the ass, in a humbler way, could stand for the merely physical or bodily side

of life. The allegorical dimension of Apuleius Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses), in

which Lucius is punished for his foolish curiosity and sexual indulgence by

being transformed into an ass and made to suffer enormous torments, comes

to a climax in his transformation back into the human as he becomes a

chaste initiate into the religion of Isis. St. Francis famously calls the body

‘‘Brother Ass.’’ Shakespeare reweaves motifs from Apuleius in his ‘‘translation’’

of Bottom into an ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Bottom is the ‘‘shallowest

thickskin’’ of the workers (3.2.13), but like Lucius, to whom Isis comes in a

dream, he alone meets the queen of the fairies. So it was that Balaams ass

saw the angel that Balaam himself was blind to (Num. 22.22--35). The satirical

side of Apuleiuss novel inspired Renaissance satire on the theme of asininity,

such as Erasmus Praise of Folly, but something of the emblematic character of

the ass as the redeemable lower dimension of life may be found in the

braying of the ass that reconciles Prince Myshkin to life in Dostoyevskys The

Idiot. Lawrence hears in the braying an agonized cry of love: ‘‘He fell into the

rut of love, / Poor ass, like man, always in rut’’ (‘‘The Ass’’).

See Horse.

Attic bird see Nightingale

Autumn Though not as popular as spring, autumn has been a frequent subject of

poetry since the classical Roman era, when certain conventions were

established. Autumn, of course, has two aspects: it completes summer and it

anticipates winter, it celebrates the harvest of the summers crops and it

mourns the death of the year; it is, in Dickinsons words, ‘‘A little this side of

the snow / And that side of the Haze’’ (no. 131). Latin poetry usually dwells on

its summery side, associating it with harvest and vintage, wealth and cornucopias.

So Virgil calls autumn ‘‘vine-leafed’’ (Georgics 2.5), Horace imagines his

head decked with ripe fruit (Epodes 2.17--18), Lucretius has Bacchus arrive with

him (5.743), Ovid describes a nymph bearing ‘‘The horn with all its wealth’’

(Met. 9.88, trans. Melville). Descriptions of ‘‘perpetual spring’’ equally describe

perpetual autumn, for as Homer puts it in his account of the garden of

Alcinous, ‘‘Pear matures on pear in that place, apple upon apple, / grape

cluster on grape cluster, fig upon fig’’ (Odyssey 7.120--21, trans. Lattimore). In

Eden, according to Milton, ‘‘spring and autumn here / Danced hand in hand’’

(PL 5.394--95). (For more examples see under Spring.)

Spenser describes Autumn as ‘‘Laden with fruits that made him laugh,’’

while he bore ‘‘Upon his head a wreath, that was enrold / With ears of corne

of every sort’’ and carried a sickle in his hand (FQ 7.7.30). Shakespeare calls it

‘‘childing autumn’’ (MND 2.1.112) and ‘‘teeming autumn, big with rich

increase’’ (Sonnets 97). In his long section on ‘‘Autumn’’ in The Seasons, Thomson

describes the joyous harvest at length.

Some of the most delicate and convincing of modern descriptions of the

season hold both facets of autumn in balance, the fullness and satisfaction of

the harvest with the coming on of winter and death. So Goethe calls on the

vine and berries to turn greener and swell plumper, as the sun and the moon

bring them to fulfillment -- and his own tears of love bedew them (‘‘Herbstgef

uhl’’). Keats (‘‘To Autumn’’) serenely describes autumns moment of

‘‘mellow fruitfulness’’ when all seems ready and ripe; he ends with an evening

scene where the day is ‘‘soft-dying,’’ the ‘‘small gnats mourn,’’ and ‘‘gathering

swallows twitter in the skies’’ as if preparing to fly south. Pushkin welcomes

autumn alone of all the seasons: ‘‘How can I explain this? She pleases me / As

sometimes, perhaps, you have been drawn to / A consumptive girl. . . . / She is

alive today -- tomorrow, not’’ (‘‘Autumn’’ 41--48, trans. Thomas). After a brief

tableau of November, Pascoli writes, ‘‘in the distance you hear / a fragile

falling of leaves. It is the summer, / Cold, of the dead’’ (‘‘Novembre’’). After

asking God to ‘‘Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine,’’ Rilke

concludes, ‘‘Whoever is alone will long remain so, / will stay awake, read, write

long letters / and in the streets up and down / will wander restlessly while

leaves are blowing’’ (‘‘Herbsttag’’). Hopkins asks, ‘‘Margaret, are you grieving /

Over Goldengrove unleaving?’’ and answers for her, ‘‘It is Margaret you mourn

for.’’ The title of that poem, ‘‘Spring and Fall,’’ reminds us that when the

English largely replaced ‘‘fall’’ with the latinate ‘‘autumn’’ they broke up a

poetically perfect pair; the original sense of ‘‘spring’’ is now less evident.

Autumn, of course, is a metaphor for the phase of maturity or middle age

in a human life. ‘‘Then autumn follows,’’ says Ovid, ‘‘youths fine fervour

spent, / Mellow and ripe, a temperate time between / Youth and old age, his

temples flecked with grey’’ (Met. 15.209--11, trans. Melville). ‘‘Nor spring, nor

summer beauty hath such grace,’’ Donne writes, ‘‘As I have seen in one

autumnal face’’ (Elegies 9.1--2). After several stanzas of scenic description,

Baratynsky stops to ask, ‘‘And you, when in the autumn of your days, / O

plowman of the fields of living, / And your own harvest lies before your gaze,

/ . . . / Can you, then, like the farmer, count your hoard?’’ (‘‘Autumn’’ 60--71,

trans. Myers). Shelleys ‘‘Ode to the West Wind’’ is an ode to autumn; he

implores the wind to ‘‘Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: / What if my

leaves are falling like its own!’’ (57--58).

See Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter.

Azure see Blue