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Chapter Two: Poetry

CHURCHYARD ( l i nk t o YouTube Gray s El egy f or audi o)

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,

The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

The curfew to which the poem refers is a time of day.
If you have visited a Georgian village deep in the heart
of the country you will have seen the cows going out
to the fields in the morning and coming back home in
the evening. In ancient times the fireplace was very
important in the house as it provided heat and energy
for cooking, as well as light to work by in the early

But a fire is also dangerous and can burn your house
down. So at night it must be covered, so that it is still
alight, but burning quietly and slowly. Cur-few just

means, cover fire; and few is quite close to our word
fire and the French feu. French is often in our words.

Now, the moment for covering the fire in a world without
clocks, mobile phones or TV is indicted by the ringing of
the bell in the tower of the local church. This would have
happened around at sunset and a little before dusk, when
the animals are coming home, and which is the time in the
evening when the sun is setting and evening and night are
If you look at the picture of the church tower more closely


you will notice that the window is not open but has sloping stone
slats. These are to keep birds out and to allow the mixed sound
of the bells to be projected outside the tower to the best effect.
Here is the sound of English churchbells which if you are lucky
you may hear when you are visiting the British Isles.

There is a difference, however, between the ringing of the bells
(just then we heard six of them) making a joyful tune like that
and used in England for weddings and special occasions
generally) and the tolling of the bell in the poem. Toll is a word
meaning to ring the same note on a single bell, like this.

knell is the ringing of a bell, like that, for an extended period, in
order to give some important information to the people who hear
it. This word is interesting because it can teach us about the two
different L sounds and two different N sounds in English.


You might like this short film where I pronounce the L and N in
knell, little, yellow, new, newt, knowledge, lowing, hello
Audio only here so that you may follow the text on the next page. - little is within the
mouth - little...little - the tongue is pushing on the back of the front
teeth - ; little - new - again the tongue is pushing on the front teeth -
new - off the soft palette - new - touching - new - touching the soft
palette and then pushing gently onto the back of the two front teeth -
new - ;

knell is with a k at the front, which - it is said - does not affect the
pronunciation . I would prefer to say that it's a different sound - knell Georgian for example you have two t's - you have a - well you have
what I would call a soft t - - and you've got what I would call a
stronger t - - you tend to put an apostrophe after the soft t -
strangely enough -[t'] and your keyboard tends to need SHIFT to play,
or present, or type a soft t - I'd would have done it the other way
round: on the analogy of English capital letters, I would have put the
Tttthh , the one which is written with a circular character [ ] a large
character, not the small t, which is really like a little ant - - walking
along, isn't it? - I would have put them the other way round: but the
point I'm trying to make is that there are two categories of n in English:
new, or newt , the little animal; knell or knowledge - they're almost the
same; knell is a little bit different - knell ! - because you've got to bring
that in...almost eject the sound ! - knell...knowledge: again the mouth
is open; but its a k-n in English; new ? - no that's a much softer sound
[n]new; little, little, there's two l's: little is a soft L ; little ; the L if you
pronounce it...little...little"little do I understand"; you would tress
the end of little if there's a reason , if the word little is what I call
salient, in your communication: 'Little do I understand why Georgians
know two languages' - for example - or; "there's little point in trying
to learn a language as difficult as Uzbekh

So - there you are! If I was writing a script for English - which we could
try doing - where we would have characters for the many sounds of
English - as if it were something like Georgian - where you've done it ! - yeah! I
would have two different characters for the two n sounds and the two L sounds.

So I hope I've explained...the reason for different levels - really -of n and L in
English - with the variant spellings: the double L, the single L, and the kn and the
ordinary n. I'd rather just conclude by trying to read the poem myself:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Emil Nolde: Landscape, North Friesland, 1920 (Nolde Stiftung, Seebll)