Monday, October 27, 2008

A Useful Vintage

This should have gone up Saturday. My apologies. I was out of town.

Dear Everyone:

Today, a few words of wisdom from Dick Lovelace:

The Vintage To The Dungeon
Richard Lovelace

Sing out, pent souls, sing cheerfully!
Care shackles you in liberty:
Mirth frees you in captivity.
Would you double fetters add?
Else why so sad?

Besides your pinion'd arms you'll find
Grief too can manacle the mind.

Live then, pris'ners, uncontrol'd;
Drink oth' strong, the rich, the old,
Till wine too hath your wits in hold;
Then if still your jollity
And throats are free—

Triumph in your bonds and pains,
And dance to the music of your chains.

Okay, so this is metaphoric, right? Prisoners are used as a metaphor for all mankind – because we're all prisoners of something, if only of infinite space. There are, alas, limitations. I am not allowed to walk on the surface of the sun, nor to live forever. And don't think it doesn't grinch me!

But Lovelace says... well, you know what he says. It's right there in black and white. "And dance to the music of your chains." A guy who spent hard time told me how one day he'd dropped acid in prison. He spread his arms wide and said ecstatically, "And I was free!" He meant it. So did Lovelace.

Note that in the title the poet refers not to "wine" but to "the vintage." This is a figure of speech called synecdoche, wherein a part represents the whole. As in "a fleet of fifty sail," when "fifty ships" is meant, or "We polled the best brains in the business" when "most intelligent people" is meant. The wine/vintage usage is a slightly rarer usage in which the whole (the year's totality of wine) represents the part (the specific wine brought into the prison). That's synecdoche too, as is the representation of the specific for the general or the general for the specific, as in, "He was a Croesus" for "He was a rich man." This example being...? Let's not all raise our hands at once. That's right: the specific for the general.

Useful word, synecdoche. Impresses the hell out of people. But if you're going to use it in speech, I recommend you look up how it's pronounced. Not the way its spelling would have you suspect.

All best,


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