Sunday, October 01, 2006

Usage and Usury

The Danish word for debt (gæld) is the German word for money (Geld). The OED alleges that the origin of guilt is unknown, but offers the Old English gylt as a possibility. The Danish gæld (debt), meanwhile, can be traced back to the English g(i)eldan, meaning "to pay", and leading eventually to the modern "yield". The double sense, of both "return as fruit" and "give up, surrender" (and all the way to "hold back", i.e., "allowing another the right of way", i.e., deference), is very telling. It shows how deep the ethos of double-entry book keeping runs in our culture. We are spiritually cut off from nature's increase by our currency.

Today, governments and citizens accumulate all manner of debt and guilt, while corporations shamelessly harvest the fruit. We are all born into a system of ownership, which is ultimately simply a sense of being indebted. There are some poems, however, that seem to have done away with this guilty feeling. At the root of all power is the ability to determine the difference between what one owns and what one owes. This play on words, this grammar, provides us with a clue to the ethos of the "major poets". As Pound put it, "They have not wished for property."

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