Just the other day we turned on the TV and found an episode of Lawrence Welk. And although welk is a rare verb meaning “fade”, Welk’s star has not faded at all; no, it is as firmly ensconced in the welkin as a whelk in a sand bed. (Whelk, originally welk, names an edible sea snail. Or, rather, it names a few different kinds.)
And why not see Welk in the welkin? We live in a skyscraper, after all, which by definition is grating the star bed (in German, “skyscraper” is Wolkenkratzer). Although welkin may sound like a leather vest (that would be jerkin, perhaps plus waistcoat, which is pronounced “weskit”), it’s actually the firmament.
The firmament? You know, what Atlas holds up. Oh, the earth? No, Atlas is holding up the heavens; he’s standing on the earth. (So are the dumpsters one sees around town with ATLAS stenciled on them – see http://www.harbeck.ca/James/atlas.html.) Welkin – like firmament – means the vault of the sky, the heavens.
And why not? It has that swoop of the /w/ leading through the vowel to the liquid /l/ and then a stop, the same swoop that made the Walt in Walt Disney seem to the young me like the sound of the wave of a magic wand. But then it echoes /In/, like a ringing sound (“Thy hounds shall make the welkin answer them,” as Shakespeare wrote in The Taming of the Shrew). If you look to see your long-dead ancestors in the heavens, you may even find a well kin in some constellation.
The kin ending gives it an archaic tinge, too, like bumpkin, lumpkin, larkin, gherkin, firkin, and, again, jerkin. This abets its use as a word of poetry and high-flown fancy. The sky is blue, so a blue eye may be, as in A Winter’s Tale, a “welkin eye.” An astrologer and almanac maker is (or was in 1596) a “welkin wizard.” One may swear, as in works by Ben Jonson and Walter Scott, “by the welkin.” If it is raining on Charlotte Brontë, then “deep lowered the welkin.” And one may even declare a person of much different social standing “out of my welkin” – Shakespeare, Twelfth-Night.
So look up in the welkin to see the star of the famous departed, Lawrence Welk; watch him welcome in his new ilk… and watch them winkle!