As(we like it)
…so says Carol's email, as I ask her about as. "As" does a lot of work without being noticed—
As is an adverb, "antecedent" or "relative," a conjunction, a preposition— a word that can precede, connect, be swallowed, used twice in the same phrase. As bright as gold (adverb). It can be stuffed into other words with great frequency and make itself solidly known in a multitude of material existences.
"A worn-down form of all-so" says the O.E.D., a phrase giving as (possessive noun) an etymology with a rather tragic cast (though perhaps all etymologies have a tragic cast) as (conjunction) it arrives from Old English. It sees itself as (preposition) a process poem.
"That not-as-clean-as-it-used-to-be oven was starting to skip certain temperatures."
I like the way as is so versatile, like a poem or a person. Unlike many beloved nouns— "celadon," for example, into which people peer, from which they peer away, trying to match the word to its locale or object— as is almost wispy. A vaporous maze that was always meant to connect.
But not so sweet
As we have seen
(Jack Spicer, Imaginary Elegies)
Also (a middle version of as), after reading an etymo-novella of the birth of as in the dictionary, I am amazed that "as bright as gold" began as a version of "so bright so gold." This as feels like a "tragic cast." We were always trying to get back to an original gold—or so thought the middle tribes, hammering away at bronze.
Etymology of as— as Yeats refers to the beard of God winding among the stars (curlicue @stars.com) in A Vision. David Lukas describes cirrus clouds and orthographic clouds ≈ξ ∞ξ as mountain writing, pointing over a ridge in the Sierra.
'The boulders running by as cars/ As cars running by as Art Blakey'' (Gabriel Gomez)
Worn down, a progressive rubbing away as (conj.) a word shifts, and then accretes to itself a new strength, a different strength, a pleasant or an unpleasant strength—
A simile is characterized by "like" or "as," said Mrs. Lewis in seventh grade. But really, it turned out, more "like."
As my father's family ate squirrels in Mississippi during the Depression. "Head and all," he says.
Later we visit the same county, noticing the short dialect sentences almost as topiary next to the Sea Breeze RV Park.
"Ideas. As they find themselves." (Barbara Guest, Rocks on a Platter) (That seems pure conjunctive use of it— except it's a fragment. The use of "as" as adverb seems to be able to have "such" in front of it— the conjunctive use does not?)
Loving the way tiny areas of time sleep within letters of the word or words… one day in the library stacks, before the library became so sadly neglected, my eye fell on As I Lay Dying on the back of a spine. In the crown, the loft below the high roof of the A… At the turn into the twenty-first century, I tried to write about this as enchantment with library dust.
Each word an utterance, a sound recalled in units of meaning. Who wouldn't want to be such a word as as when one grows up? As— so intense and helpful even if barely noticed!
For Carol Snow and Kristin Hanson
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Brenda Hillman teaches at Saint Mary's College of California, where she is Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry. She is the author of eight collections of poetry, all published by Wesleyan University Press. The most recent of these is Practical Water.