A tight knot of mermerosity

When we set out, just past Castell Dinas, we pass a dog driving a tractor. Or so it seems.

The shadow of Bruno the dog is long. We see him everywhere. Every morning when I first go downstairs I expect to see him, lying on his rug by the front door. Making coffee I expect him to approach me, nuzzle the back of my knee with his snout. I expect him to stand by the back door, waiting to be let out for a pee and on returning inside to stand by the fridge, awaiting his treat. But he isn’t there.

In David Shield’s book, Reality Hunger, I come across this:

‘In English, the term memoir comes directly from the French for memory, mémoire, a word that is derived from the Latin for the same, memoria. And yet more deeply rooted in the word memoir is a far less confident one. Embedded in Latin’s memoria is the ancient Greek mérmeros, an offshoot of the Avestic Persian mermara, itself a derivative of the Indo-European for that which we can think about but cannot grasp: mer-mer, ‘to vividly wonder,’ ‘to be anxious,’ ‘to exhaustingly ponder.’’

The Chambers dictionary of etymology links ‘mourning’ and ‘mourn’ with old Saxon ‘mornian’, to mourn, and Old High German mornen, Icelandic ‘morna’ — but goes on to say ‘cognate with Latin memoria (mindful) see MEMORY’. So I look at ‘Memory’ in the etymological dictionary and sure enough, Shields is right: ‘Latin memor is cognate with Greek mérmēra = care, trouble, mermaírein = be anxious or thoughtful.’

Mermeros was a figure from Greek Mythology, a son of Jason, along with Pheres. Apparently the brothers were killed either by the Corinthians or by Medea, for reasons that vary depending on the rendition (see Medea). In one account, Mermeros was killed by a lioness while out hunting. 

Iolaus mermeros is a butterfly of the Lycaenidae family. It is found on Madagascar.

Mermeros in ancient Greek means ‘a state of worry or anxiety’. 

I find a blog written by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who applies the concept of mermeros to the crisis of the world’s ecosystem: ‘Perhaps we should expand the psychoterratic typology beyond an established term such as ‘ecoanxiety’ to include a concept like ‘mermerosity’ or what I would define as the pre-solastalgic state of being worried about the possible passing of the familiar and its replacement by that which does not sit comfortably within one’s sense of place. I begin to mourn for that which I know will become endangered or extinct even before these events unfold. I know and worry that the coming summer will be too hot and will have a huge wildfire threat. I often have a tight knot of mermerosity inside me when I consider the scale of negative change going on around me and what disaster might happen next.’

Albrecht goes on to suggest that a new kind of mourning ‘might contains the emergent elements of detailed knowledge of causality, anthropogenic culpability and enhanced empathy for the non-human’ . . . ‘The etymological origins of the word ‘mourning’ come from the Greek language, mermeros related to ‘a state of being worried’ and its meaning is associated with being troubled and to grieve. We can see from these ancient origins that mourning is a versatile concept that can be applied to any context, present and future, not just to the death of humans, where there is grieving and worry about a negative state of affairs.’

Castell Dinas

On the day of Storm Eunice, I walk with my daughter Sioned up to Pen Trumau, starting from Castell Dinas, just off the Crickhowell to Talgarth Road. Castell Dinas was an Iron Age Fort that later sprouted a Norman Castle, of which the ruins are still visible. At 450 metres it is the highest castle in that hybrid geo-political entity ‘England and Wales’. It has the dubious privilege of having been sacked by two Welsh warlords, first by Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1233 and subsequently by Owain Glyndŵr on his visit to these parts circa 1405, on his way to Crickhowell. He burned down the castle there also. 

On the south-west facing side of Pen Trumau we are out of the wind, but once on the ridge beneath Mynydd Llysiau we struggle to stay on our feet: leaning into the wind becomes an effort of the will. There is no way to depict the wind in a photograph of a treeless landscape, but the posture tells us pretty much all we need to know about the wind.

By the time we hit the ridge between Pen Trumau and Waun Fach we realise that the effort required to walk is more than we can sustain. I am tired and out of sorts in any case; since Bruno’s death I’ve been enduring a kind of failure to engage with thought, which drains my energy. Sometimes I feel I’m better off not thinking at all, that I’d rather be merely sentient, like a beast of the field. So much cerebral processing in the human. And for what?

As we descend from the mountain, and I look down over Cwm Grwyne Fechan, and beyond, to the ridge behind Pen Allt Mawr and westward, and I notice once more the way that the hills fold into one another creating a trompe l’oeil effect, the curve of a hillside concealed by another, a process of continual enfolding, that reminds me of something to do with grammar: the Black Mountains as a single recursive sentence, its hills clauses hidden within other clauses, disappearing from sight as you round a contour or cross a ridge. 

3 Comments on “A tight knot of mermerosity

  1. I wonder, but sadly cannot cite a short apposite example, are we yet seeing creative works mourning the loss not just of habitat or individual ecosystems but the entire planet as we have known it for thousands of years? How will that loss be measured?

    The (not so near) closest I came was written long before ‘climate change’ existed as a concept – Ray Bradbury’s collection The Martian Chronicles (I read first when barely a teen in the early 70’s, as did others: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/437001906).
    Several of his stories play hauntingly on encounters of sorts between Americans ‘conquering’ the new frontier of space to colonise Mars and the ghostly echoes of a ‘disappeared’ former civilisation, much as Ray Bradbury must have guiltily encountered First Nation remains in Mexico and the Mid-West.

    In our current reinfection with the plague of genocide, we already have begun to lose count of the bodies. How will we mourn the millions that may yet succumb to flooding and drought, freak weather and the international looting of resources, including potable water, that has also already begun? How will we find a voice for all these lost voices?

    For a tiny parallel I think of Harri Webb’s ‘Colli Iaith’ (‘Losing a Language’), a soul wrenching cry of anguish, (tailed with a momentary and minor-key coda of determination a ‘Dyn ni yma o hyd/we’re still here’ air punch, especially as rendered unforgettably in song by Heather Jones). Land and landmarks, freedom and privileges can be stolen by conquest, but the blow that severs the soul from its connection with all of these is losing the language that uniquely binds them together.

    Or that other unforgettable aphorism (the source and exact wording of which have unforgivably succumbed to a ‘senior moment’, but perhaps Webb himself again): – ‘What is harder than being exiled from your own country? Finding your country exiled from you’. (a thought that also occurred to me when reading your ‘Vagabond’s Breakfast’.)

    I’m not thinking so much of the apocalyptic dystopias of ‘disaster’ movies or even the survivalist last man standing tales (invariably men, with obligatory ‘Girls Friday’, retelling the Ejection from Eden in reverse.)

    I’m thinking of the first bars of new threnodies for the loss of what always seemed cosmically certain, at least in our neck of the woods, the seasons clocked from before history by megalith builders across Europe and beyond, now displaced during our momentary anthropocene not merely by silent springs but potentially mute millennia. How will we deal with the guilt of knowing, as we most certainly will ‘Adam and Eve’ it, that no one else was responsible when we collectively turned our backs on our future generations?

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  2. Hi Marc, and thanks for your comments. I just wrote a long reply and then WordPress vanished it, as if corroborating the very sentiments I was attempting to convey! But yes, we are all complicit. These jottings about the Black Mountains, which I hope to put together in a little book one day, are a part of the threnody of which you speak, whatever it is worth (probably not at all). All best wishes.

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  3. I’m sure it will be worth it. The world is tilting out of kilter and even if we can’t predict who, if anyone, will be there to read us, we need to bear witness – to the minutae as much as the floods and fires. List the names of fields before they are lost and the sound of the last birds to sing at dawn. Or plant new ideas or ones left abandoned in old packets. Keep on writing for all of us, even when we don’t comment!

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