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U is for Urn-Burial, Uxorious, and Underhill

August 22, 2007

Steatopygous female figure

I’m catching up on my Encyclopedia of Me entries:  it’s time for “U.”

Urn-Burial is a section of the title of an extended essay by Sir Thomas Browne:  Hydriotaphia, Urn-Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in Norfolk (1658), which takes the occasion of an archaelogical discovery to consider the nature of death, burial, history, religion, culture, and reputation.  I’m addicted to Renaissance prose:  Browne, Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditation (c. 1667), and Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) are three of my favorites.  Browne writes particularly lush and gorgeous prose:

“Darkness and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us.  Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves.  To weep into stones are fables.”

“Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us.”

“Happy are they whom privacy makes innocent, who deal so with men in this world that they are not afraid to meet them in the next, who when they die make no commotion among the dead.”

At my wedding, The Rev. Dr. Z., late of Harvard University, preached on early Hebrew urn burial practices as exemplified in passages from the Book of Ruth. It was precisely the wedding sermon I had always dreamed of, a perfectly scholarly meditation on love, death, and ancient history.

Uxorious is a word which must be reclaimed:  it means “devoted, perhaps excessively, to one’s wife.”  It has overtones of that state my darling friend Cnythia (yes, Cnythia) calls being p.w’d.  According to the OED folks, there is no antonym for uxorious:

“The only candidate, from the Latin word for a husband, maritus, is the invented word maritorious. However, this is very rare: the only example we know of, other than from recent books on words, is from 1607 (where the writer makes the obvious word-play with meritorious).” [AskOxford.com]

I’ve never had a husband.  Can devotion to one’s wife be excessive?  As a wife, I think not.  As one who has a wife . . . I think not.

Underhill is the alias Frodo Baggins (who shares my birthday) assumes in the Prancing Pony in Bree. (Pardon me while I tuck my geek credentials back in my pocket protector.)  It is also the name John Crowley gives Mother Nature/Mother Goose/Mother Church/Dame Kind (pictured above).  If I ever were to perpetrate a book, it would be under the name of Underhill.

Here are some other “u” words I love:  university, upstairs, uranism, utopia, unitary, underwear, umbel, ululation, and usufruct (which means having the use and benefits of a property belonging to someone else, as long as you do not damage it).

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