It's Word Nerd Day!
Upon learning that today, January 9th, is known to a national audience as Word Nerd Day, we can’t help but identify our dear Mr. Morley as a true nerd of words. His works often contain uncommon usages, self-minted terms, words that require interaction with a dictionary, and bits of other languages that pepper his poetry, prose, and personal correspondence.
Though Christopher Morley found great success as a novelist and journalist, he desired a legacy that acknowledged his talent for poetic verse above all forms. Indeed, his poems appear to employ the same careful, deliberate language and playful overlay of existential ponder present throughout his literary opus. Additionally, his exploration of poetic style reflects the diversity of his writings in terms of genre, subject, and intended audience.
A fine example of Morley’s more accessible poetry is found in “Smells”, a five-stanza poem that appears in The Rocking Horse and is composed mostly in tercets of iambic tetrameter. While strict adherence to this form is shown throughout the poem’s first three stanzas, it slowly dissolves in the fourth and final verses into a more inconsistent meter with a concluding quartet. Despite these deviations, the simple scheme of triplet end rhymes unify the entire composition and draws attention in the final stanza to a certain term whose meaning is more familiar than the word itself. The word in question is “gramarye” which is pronounced “gram-a-ree” and refers to magic, sorcery, and mystical learning. A fitting definition for the learning of new words, which is arguably a magic unto itself, this gramarye is assigned a collection of scents, including the “balsam of a Christmas tree.”
Read the full poem below: