Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What name a city has -- What name a State, river, sea, mountain, wood, prairie, has -- is no indifferent matter. -- All aboriginal names sound good. I was asking for something savage and luxuriant, and behold here are the aboriginal names. I see how they are being preserved. They are honest words -- they give the true length, breadth, depth. They all fit. Mississippi ! -- the word winds with chutes -- it rolls a stream three thousand miles long. Ohio, Connecticut, Ottawa, Monongahela, all fit.

Names are magic. -- One word can pour such a flood through the soul. -- To-day I will mention Christ's before all other names. -- Grand words of names are still left. -- What is it that flows through me at the sight of the word Socrates, or Cincinnatus, or Alfred of the olden time -- or at the sight of the word Columbus, or Shakespeare, or Rousseau, or Mirabeau -- or at the sight of the word Washington, or Jefferson, or Emerson?

-- Walt Whitman,
The Primer of Words, a/k/a An American Primer

I'm thinking of Whitman's encomium to aboriginal placenames because I've been listening to Bob Dylan, and I keep wanting to change the tag line of his song Mississippi
, from Love and Theft, thus:

Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Pennsylvania a day too long

The song doesn't seem to have anything specifically and explicitly to do with Mississippi, but the name of that state has much more mythic resonance than the identically scanscioned "Pennsylvania." "Mississippi" evokes more than "Pennsylvania," because of the history and imagery, and also for the reasons Walt states above. But for me, the one thing it really evokes is Dylan's wish to be evocative.

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