Ancient word of the day: Venation

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The ancient word of the Day is venation. This is a delicate and diaphanous pattern of veins appearing on the blade of a leaf.

These delicate patterns are most visible in autumn as  decay befalls the forest floor and the wind crumbles away the leaf litter leaving behind the frail leaf filigree, a ghost echo of summer’s full flush.

Venation may be reticulate, palmate, arcuate in form depending on the structure of the plant and how it grows.

Learning the Trees by Howard Nemerov

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn

The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,

Out of a book, which now you think of it

Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,

You might be in a foreign land of terms

Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,

Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—

Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—

And their venation—palmate and parallel—

And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now

Go forth to the forests and the shady streets

To see how the chaos of experience

Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree

May differ among themselves more than they do

From other species, so you have to find,

All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book

Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three

Around the stem; the one in front of you

But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.

It may be weeks before you see an elm

Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,

A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,

Little by little, you do start to learn;

And learn as well, maybe, what language does

And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with

Experience while cooperating with

Experience, and keeping an obstinate

Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will

Pretending obedience to Nature, but

Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,

Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:

You may succeed in learning many trees

And calling off their names as you go by,

But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

John Bate: The Mysteryes of Nature and Art

Bi-Focal by William Stafford

As fire burns the leaf

and out of the green appears   

the vein in the center line

and the legend veins under there,

So, the world happens twice—

once what we see it as;

second it legends itself

deep, the way it is.

9 thoughts on “Ancient word of the day: Venation

  1. Well, after most of a life spent studying leaf venation, I’ve never come across those quotes before!

  2. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
    Content Catnip says:

    I found this word online and loved it so much and then I looked up venation on the poetry foundation’s website and some poems came up. Amazing place to look up word associations on there, full of rich word tapestries.

  3. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
    Content Catnip says:

    I hope I at least got the factual parts of it correct here!!!

    1. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
      Content Catnip says:

      I love this post, there is so much there…thanks for sharing Terry. Thoreau was so evocative in his writing about trees.

    2. Wasn’t there a fairly popular book about the way trees ‘communicate’ published a few years back? I remember almost getting it…

      1. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
        Content Catnip says:

        I don’t know this one but I would be interested to read about something like that.

    1. Content Catnip – Catnip, The World. – Digital dawdler, foodie, bookworm, culture vulture, rainbow lorikeet perennially in love with the arts, history and science. Constantly seeking inspiring people, knowledge and places.
      Content Catnip says:

      I am not sure but it seems likely

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