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What are archaic words?I ask this question about the effect of the archaic words in the...

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alirm92 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 10, 2009 at 4:20 AM via web

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What are archaic words?

I ask this question about the effect of the archaic words in the context of William Cullen Bryant' work in "To a Waterfowl."

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 10, 2009 at 4:53 AM (Answer #1)

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Your question is very open ended. However, since you ask about William Cullen Bryant, who was an American poet that lived in the 19th century, I will assume that you mean archaic words that are related to the English language. In this case, it is almost certain that archaic language refers to the classical world. Keep in mind that classical learning was still very much a part of American culture then. People could even still speak Latin and dissertations in universities were written in Latin! Also, people were excellent in ancient Greek. For example, Alexander Pope, a British poet, whom Bryant admired, translated the Iliad. Also it is good to keep in mind that the title of one of Bryant's poems, Thanatopsis, was from two Greek words, meaning "mediations on death". In addition, Bryant’s poem, “To the Waterfowl” was written to be a didactic poem. He probably got this idea from the Greeks (Hesiod) and Romans (Ovid), who were fond of didactic poems.

Hence, in the light of these points, archaisms refer to Bryant's use of classical culture, language and literary conventions. It is also my experience that many of these types of writers make extraordinarily learned allusions to classical culture. So, if you read carefully, you will undoubtedly hear many echoes from Greece and Rome.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 10, 2009 at 4:57 AM (Answer #2)

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So are you just asking what "archaic" means?  The word "archaic" means really old-fashioned or outdated.  There are lots of archaic words in this poem.  Just a few include "whither," "dost," "fowler," "plashy" and "marge."

As to the effect of these words, it seems a lot more of a personal opinion.  This is especially true because I'm not sure any of these words were archaic when he wrote them.

For me, these words give the poem more of a dreamy, unreal feeling because they aren't the kind of language we use and so they don't bring up specific images in my mind.  But I'm not at all sure that's how Bryant would have meant the poem to be understood.

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