On the origin of Poetry

The modern English term ‘verse’ is derived from the French ‘verser’, meaning ‘to pour’. But the French equivalent, ‘vers’, means ‘towards’. It is also the plural form of ‘ver’, i.e. ‘worm’. (Cf. ‘verge’ – ‘penis’; and ‘verrue’ – ‘wart’, the image here being of warts scattered on the flesh as worms are found on a road following rain.) So the basic sense is: ‘worms towards the pouring’. Yet who are the worms and what is this pouring? To resolve these riddles we will have to pursue our investigations further. Now ‘ver’ is in turn derived from the Latin ‘vir’, meaning ‘man’. This is to say that in the medieval world-view the worm strives ‘versum virum’ – ‘towards man’, as man is seen as constituting the pinnacle of nature, that towards which all lesser forms necessarily strive. But this ‘towards man’ is not yet a ‘towards the pouring’. Now, worms are also ‘versus’ (i.e. ‘turned against’, ‘opposed to’, or ‘coming at us!’) man, for they envy his erectitudinality: he treads on them with impunity, unmoved by their cries of ‘virus! virus!’ Yet the opposition is dialectical, for if they strive toward man and suffer for doing so,  they also ‘wend’ or ‘turn away’ from man, just as man in turn ‘wends’ from them. This wending, the obverse of the versum, while it produces no ill effects in the worms (‘ver’ stems from the same root as ‘virer’ – ‘to turn (about)’), it yet induces in those of upright gait, otherwise ‘strong’ (‘vis’) as ‘screws’ (‘vis’), a green vertigo. Worms, though poor in verb, take their revenge with verve as man tumbles towards them into the furrow (in Latin ‘versus’ literally means ‘a line dug by the plough’, which is why the worms are so ‘cut’, i.e. ‘pissed off’). But it is not only towards them that he tumbles, as we shall presently see. For it is only at this moment, in the spring (‘ver’ in Latin), that a preparation known to the initiated as ‘verse’, whose virtue is such that it must by its very nature be ‘poured’ or ‘tipped’ into the open earth, is indeed ‘poured’ into the ‘furrow’. By whom? you may well ask. The ‘man’ is ‘screwed’ by his own ‘vis’: he is dying in the ‘verdure’, his ‘dick’ covered in ‘warts’. The elixir flows over his ‘verso’. Now the heroes (fr. Sanskrit root vīrá- meaning ‘those who veer and are fired or expelled’) of legend cock their ears from the veranda and attend to the death of one of their own, the once virile. Not in mourning, but yea in divine ecstasy do they hearken. Verse singes his back, opening up his vermilion flesh to the delight of the worms: this is the pouring they’ve been inching towards for so long. Verse leads the clamorous song of the ‘world’ (fr. Old High German, ‘wer’+‘alt’, i.e. ‘the age of who?’) as man and worm, and by extension man and nature, spirit and flesh, eternity and time, cosmos and chaos are reunited and resolved into the great iambic (fr. Greek, ‘ἴαμβος ‘iambos’ – ‘botched’, ‘hindered’, ‘hobbling’) harmony of all. And with this we see we have attained the fundamental and originary significance of semiosis: the sewing of man in worm and worm in man. But this is only one version. There is also a reverse, in which the sacramental vessel, known as a ‘verre’ or glass, is simply smashed, producing a de-versing, or ‘spill’, a microcosmic imitation of the ‘universe’, that ‘one great spill’ or ‘great one-sided dump’.



Image: ‘Latin’ / flickr



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Marty Hiatt is a Melbourne poet currently based in Berlin.

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