I love this word not for its shape or its sound but for what it signifies. I grew up, you see, in a place that was overall rather dry and most of the time was shades of brown and grey; only in the summer would it become green, and I certainly enjoyed the view from a hill of the river valley filled with trees, as though someone had poured a pitcher of pesto into it, but even then it was nothing like the intense green that one sees in more humid climates. And this word carries intensity with it: although its dictionary definition is simply “green” or “green with vegetation”, one cannot miss out on the intensity of the green – depth of colour, or pervasiveness, or both.
This is in part because something that’s covered with vegetation probably does have an intense and pervasive green. But consider the sound of verdant – what does it sound like that will be flavouring it? What other words have a similar sound? Verve, fervent, fervid, vermin, fever, fertile, vertical, perverted, verdigris, verge, vervet, ferment, nervy, perhaps for heaven’s sake… I find that in general a labiodental fricative followed by syllabic /r/ has a vibration against restraint, an insistent yearning, though of course it’s more present in some words than in others.
And what words does verdant travel with or near? Very often, it shows up in the phrase verdant green, which manifests either a mistrust of the hearer’s understanding of verdant or a belief that verdant refers to the vegetal nature rather than the colour per se (in fact, it comes via French from a Latin root for “green”), or perhaps a tendency (as in ruby red too) to form colour adjectives as specifiers on a primary colour name. Or simply a taste for redundancy.
But there are various things that are described as verdant, and not always as verdant green: hills, forest(s), fields, trees, landscape, valley, lawns, foliage… Keats wrote of a verdant hill, Robert Burns of verdant woods, Milton of verdant grass, verdant leaf, a verdant wall, verdant isles, and even verdant gold, Wordsworth of verdant herb and a verdant lawn and a verdant path and verdant hills – they really get their word’s worth out of it.
I especially like Edward Smyth Jones’s “A Song of Thanks,” in which he gives thanks “For the verdant robe of the gray old earth” (among dozens of other lovely things). I must say that whenever I see verdancy – the verdant sea of trees in the Don Valley, perhaps, or the emerald crescent of Toronto Island – I too am truly thankful: that it is there and that I am too.
And thanks to my mom, not just for putting me here to see verdancy but for asking me to taste verdant.
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