Last week I had the students in my upper-level English seminar do an OED exercise. They were to look up a word we had encountered in one of the readings (Golding, Browne, Shakespeare), produce a sense of its historical and etymological trajectory, then illuminate its use in the context of the passage where they found it.
One of my students looked up the word "sole." When I started reading her assignment I scoffed inwardly. I mean, what could the OED possibly add to a modern understanding of "sole"? It means "only." It means "alone."
My student surprised me. She revealed that in early modern England, "sole" specifically referred to an unmarried woman. It's actually the first three definitions in the OED. She produced a lovely reading of "sole heir" in Cymbeline that connected Innogen's status as Cymbeline's "only" and unmarried daughter, with another meaning of "sole" which is "soil." In her reading, it mattered not only that Innogen was Cymbeline's only unmarried daughter, but that her claim to inheritance tied her to the very soil of Britain.
Tonight I am feeling all sorts of "sole." I am alone again- my relationship with Mr. 19C ended this evening. I don't want to go into any details, but there was no anger or resentment. Only sorrow and a feeling of defeat.
But it has left me terribly saddened. It's always sad when things don't work out. And I will miss being part of something. I don't relish being alone again.
I went outside on the porch and smelled the frozen air, wandering around the garden. Just last week the sunshine and damp earth held the promise of spring. But right now it is cold outside- even the soil, which was beginning to show signs of warmth, pushing bulbs and worms to the surface, is chilled.