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Thread: Unclear archaic words in W.C. Wentworth's poem Australasia

  1. #1

    Question Unclear archaic words in W.C. Wentworth's poem Australasia

    I am wondering if anyone can help re. the meaning of some words?

    Wentworth's poem "Australasia" includes various words, phrases and allusions that are not in common usage today.

    Whilst I have worked out all of those that I did not already know, three still have me perplexed:

    1) thimy
    May warm each heart, and chase its glooms away :—
    Their’s too on flow’ry mead or thimy steep

    I haven't found this word in any on-line dictionaries (incl. the Oxford), or in older dictionaries
    e.g. it was not in "A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society" (1919)
    or the "Etymological English Dictionary" (1966)

    However, the word does appear in
    "Introduction to the English reader, or, A selection of pieces in prose and poetry" (1830)
    Rejoic'd a thimy bank to gain.
    But short the triumphs of her reign

    And in
    had appeared a shiny day on the sunny, thimy side of the hill leading to their hiding place of a little village

    2) Thund’rer
    Or see the pilf’rer of th’ empyrean fire
    Chain’d to his rock endure the Thund’rer’s ire

    I assume this is an allusion to a story in Greek mythology [empyrean = according to Greek mythology, Empyrean Heaven was in the highest heaven, a place which was composed of heavenly fire].
    Maybe something to do with a god of thunder or weather?

    There is a similar reference in
    "Miscellaneous Poems" (1804)
    As thus the Thund'rer spoke, the realms above
    Re-echoed with the strains of peace and love

    3) champaign
    And, as a meteor shoots athwart the night,
    The boundless champaign burst upon our sight,
    = a stretch of level and open country; a plain; or could be a reference to battlefield (related to campaign, from Old French champaigne, from Late Latin campānia); maybe re. the meteor shooting across the sky like a cannonball?

    I am not clear on how an "open plain" (even in the sky) could "burst upon our sight" - unless, perhaps, it is a poetic reference to the night skies becoming clearer to the eye?
    That would be a possibility.

    I don't believe this word to be an erroneous spelling of champagne, as it was also spelt this way when the poem was published in book form.

    Can anyone assist with the meaning of these words?

  2. #2
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    You will need to do some free-wheeling, outside-the-box thinking here. I think I have the solution to "thimy steep", particularly since Wentworth links it with a "flow'ry mead". (meadow, not the alcoholic drink)
    Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2, Scene 1.
    "I know a bank where the wild thyme grows." Wentworth would certainly have been familiar with Shakespeare, and spelling was not as rigid as it became later. I think it refers to wild thyme growing on a hillside. Check out this recitation:
    "Champaign" I think that the "open plain" is correct. It does not need to be associated with darkness, simply with suddenness and wonder. Think Moses overlooking the Promised Land, or Cortez, "silent upon a peak in Darien". (Spelling??)
    Thunderer: The English newspaper, The Times, had the nickname "The Thunderer", but I don't think it was applied in Wentworth's day. See:
    You probably know that Prometheus was chained to a rock for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man, and there he had to endure, among other torments, the thunderbolts of Jove.
    On the other hand, Thor, the God of Thunder, was also the God of War. Is there a reference to war somewhere in the context? Wentworth would also have known classical Roman and Greek mythology, and I think he would have been familiar with Norse legends. They were part of a gentleman's education in those days.
    Last edited by Catessa; 28-02-2012 at 10:25 PM.

  3. #3
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    I think that Wentworth did a lot of cribbing of other people's ideas, although I don't know how far the work of Keats had spread when Wentworth wrote his poem. Check this out:'s_Homer

    Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

    "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" is a sonnet by English Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) written in October 1816. It tells of the author's astonishment at reading the works of the ancient Greek poet Homer as freely translated by the Elizabethan playwright George Chapman.

  4. #4
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    Yoo-hoo, Institute-etc. Are you still there or have you lost interest in your query?
    You will be able to find both "thymy" and "thymey" a-plenty on Google. This link gives both:
    "abounding in or fragrant with thyme"
    They are even admissible on Scrabble.

  5. #5
    Thank you Catessa, I really appreciate the trouble you've taken.

    Yes, of course, Prometheus makes sense re. the stealing of fire from Zeus the god of thunder. The story all came back straight away as soon as I realised what the reference was (thanks to you). The poem has quite a few allusions to Greek mythology.

    The "champaign" reference to open skies makes sense, thanks for the confirming opinion on that, as I was not sure of it.

    Thimy as "wild thyme growing on a hillside"? As a variation of "thymy" - ah, that makes sense; I would not have thought of that; obviously it was to do with fields, but how? Good lateral thinking on that one.
    I was going to look up "thimy" in the full multi-volume Oxford Dictionary, but my local library does not have a set (not sure if the Oxford dictionary on-line includes all words from the full dictionary). At least the other references show that it is a "real word". "Thymy" matches well.

    Thank you very much for all your help.
    Last edited by InstituteOfAustralianCulture; 01-03-2012 at 08:25 PM.

  6. #6
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    Glad to have been of assistance.
    I don't think that I would have picked up the significance of the "thimy steep" - a hillside overgrown with thyme and spreading its perfume - without the association of "flow'ry mead" - a meadow full of flowers. That made it just so Titania.

  7. #7
    3) champaign

    Wentworth is talking about himself:

    "when first with vent'rous tread ...
    Till gain'd with toilsome step thy topmost heath
    We spied the cheering smokes ascend beneath,
    And, as a meteor shoots athwart the night,
    The boundless champaign burst upon our sight,
    Till nearer seen the beauteous landscape grew
    Op'ning like Canaan on rapt Israel's view.

    Translated 'with the suddenness of a meteor illuminating the landscape at night, so we [Blaxland, Wentworth & Lawson] suddenly saw the boundless western plains opening up before us.'

  8. #8
    Thank you, djbcjk.

    Hadn't even thought of that passage relating to Wentworth's explorations, but it makes sense.

    Good thinking on that one!

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