Friday, August 2, 2013

A is for Ox

Was walking this afternoon and discovered an old-school, high-shelved, narrow-aisled, used bookstore in the center of town. I walked around for a while and pulled a few books off the shelves from time to time. Found one I had not seen before in the art section entitled "A is For Ox," by David Goldman (Graphison, 1987) which turns out to be a profusely illustrated history of letters and typography. On the inside cover paper were these lines from Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Typography":

...the letter
was the mother
of the new banners;
the letters
the terrestrial
and the song the ardent hymn
that unites
to another
and another,
from people to people went bearing
its sonorous authority,
and welling in the throats of men
it imposed the the clarity of the song...

There's something odd in the syntax toward the end (I'm not sure what the antecedent for "it" is in the last line, for example; might be a wrinkle in the translation, nor, more significantly, the subject of the verb "went"); but still, I liked it (the poem - especially the part about how the letters begot the terrestrial stars, which you have to admit is an original thought) and bought it (the book), as a souvenir and a spur to further investigations.

The title? Turns out the Hebrew word aleph, which meant ox, and being that oxen were often used as a means of exchange, there was a little graphic of an oxhead that eventually got simplified and turned into the letter we now know as "A." You learn something every day.

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