We had a good chat, our first class on the word, about parts of speech and their different powers. I laid a trap by asking, Which part of speech has the most bang for the buck? Adjectives, I was waiting to hear, adverbs. They didn’t fall for it. Verbs, they said, nouns. Yup.
Acts and actors are the meat of it. Things and what they do. Acts and the things they act through. (That one is easy to say, one a bit contorted, says something about the bias of our language.)
But I was headed for the lowly preposition. To get there I told a story. I had been backpacking a couple weeks earlier in the North Cascades. The first day we were sunriddled.
The next day some clouds came in.
Through the afternoon they kept on coming.
The two peaks are Shuksan and Baker. It was spitting rain by the time we set up camp 4000 feet lower by the Chilliwack River.
All the next day was rain. Sorry no pictures. Had to keep moving. We climbed back into the subalpine and set up camp in the pouring rain.
And there we were, huddled under a little tarp stretched between two mountain hemlocks, soaked to the bone, heating water for our freeze-dried soup. And I thought to myself
I’m under a tarp, but it’s raining on me.
And it struck me how much I would give to be able to say instead
It’s raining near me.
Small little word. Big huge diff. And then I thought, pissily,
It’s raining at me.
And thus was a lesson plan born.
We (I’m back in the classroom now) sounded out the changes. What other prepositions can we sub in? How does that one change change the meaning, the feeling?
It’s raining in me (metaphor for sad)
It’s raining for me (God complex)
It’s raining above me (virga)
It’s raining through me (a diffuse or dissolved body)
It’s raining from me (God complex squared)
The nouns and verbs stay the same. The pronouns stay the same. Only the lowly preposition changes. And yet with each change the whole carnival picks up stakes and shifts in a flash to a different world. The word for it is proprioceptive. I take the word from Olson and the image from Dickinson.
I’ve known a Heaven, like a Tent
To wrap its shining Yards
Pluck up its stakes, and disappear
Without the sound of Boards
Or Rip of Nail—Or Carpenter
But just the miles of Stare
That signalize a Show’s Retreat
In North America
No Trace—no Figment of the Thing
That dazzled, Yesterday
No Ring—no Marvel
Men, and Feats
Dissolved as utterly
As Bird’s far Navigation
Discloses just a Hue
A plash of Oars, a Gaiety
Then swallowed up, of View
Check out those nouns, those verbs, those preps. (I count one adjective.) And the feel of being in a mountainous vastness she can never have seen with her physical eye.