William Barnes was one of a group of 19th-century British philologists who wanted to purge the English language of Greek and Latin influences, keeping only what was Germanic or Celtic.

Not that much later, Mallarme (echoed by T. S. Eliot) said the poet's job is to "purify the language of the tribe." I used to quote this approvingly, but not anymore.

"Purify" and "tribe" are scary words, especially when used by a white man, and even more so when used together. We've seen, too many times, what purifying looks like, and "tribe" is an othering word. (In the work the Barnes quote is from, author Wylie Sypher tosses around the even more othering terms "savage" and "primitive," concepts colonizing powers use to make the colonized less than.)

But also, as white man Seamus Heaney said in The Redress of Poetry, the task of poetry is to complicate experience. To purify is to simplify, and thereby to impoverish and endanger. Purebred dogs are prone to breed-specific health problems. Mutts are a hardier lot. What poetry needs to do is to mongrelize the language, and destroy, or at least make porous, the boundaries that make for tribes.


Image info: from Literature and Technology: The Alien Vision by Wylie Sypher.