The Tongue of Angels

Clemence IsaureIthelya was a very famous Queen of Caere and the subject of a long and famous poem in the high rhetorical style that is typical of much older Herthelan poetry. We are fortunate enough to have a snippet from the poem (frustratingly out of context) in the English-language style that has been taken to represent Ithelic meter (the meter of the Ithelya and many other works). We believe that this is not just an attempted reproduction but is a kind of direct equivalent, so it is an important treasure for us.

To clarify the use of “rhetorical” in this context, we need to explain a concept that is unfamiliar in modern west Telluria, and to do that I think the simplest way is to call in a Tellurian traditionalist on the subject:

“Rhetoric,” of which the Greek original means skill in public speaking, implies, on the other hand, a theory of art as the effective expression of theses. There is a very wide difference between what is said for effect, and what is said or made to be effective, and must work, or would not have been worth saying or making. It is true that there is a so-called rhetoric of the production of “effects,” just as there is a so-called poetry that consists only of emotive words, and a sort of painting that is merely spectacular; but this kind of eloquence that makes use of figures for their own sake, or merely to display the artist, or to betray the truth in courts of law, is not properly a rhetoric, but a sophistic, or art of flattery. By “rhetoric” we mean, with Plato and Aristotle, “the art of giving effectiveness to truth.” My thesis will be, then, that if we propose to use or understand any works of art (with the possible exception of contemporary works, which may be “unintelligible”), we ought to abandon the term “aesthetic” in its present application and return to “rhetoric,” Quintilian’s “bene dicendi scientia” [“art of speaking well” – Ed. trans.]

Ananda Coomaraswamy, “A Figure of Speech or a Figure of Thought”

This is precisely what we mean when we speak of the “high rhetorical” style. Rhetoric is “the art of giving effectiveness to truth”. It is the means of engaging, at a deep level, the heart and mind of maid in the reception of truth.

The verse-form most associated with high rhetoric in Sai Herthe is called Ithelic verse from the Ithelia or Ithelya (pronounced ee-thell-ya). Ithelic meter is very important because it derives from Scripture and is the basis of a lot of Herthelan literature.

The meter itself is a five-beat structure, and in the most usual Herthelan style, alternates chelanic with melinic line-endings. A melinic ending is on a stressed syllable, while a chelanic ending has one unstressed syllable after the last stressed one.

While the meter has five beats, like Iambic Pentameter (the meter Shakespeare uses for the blank verse in the plays), it is unlike Iambic Pentameter in that there are two unstressed syllables between each stress rather than one, making the lines quite a bit longer.

In some kinds of verse, extra weak syllables between beats can give the lines a light and “skipping” quality, but in Ithelic meter, when well written, they do something rather special, giving the lines a “lucid complexity”, a style that can only be translated into English as “rhetorical” (in the true meaning of the term explained above). In the Motherland it is called (hyperbolically, of course) “the tongue of angels”, because it is seen as expressing truth in the most beautiful and elegant way possible — and therefore in the most effective way possible.

It is said that in the Golden Age all maids spoke in verse or in song. Their language was closer to the angelic language. The Primordial Word (from which all language derives) and the Primordial Note (from which all music derives) are ultimately one and the same, and it is from them that all manifestation derives — for the True Names of things are not other than the things themselves, and the relations between things are not other than the Celestial Music. So certainly the Herthelan original of Ithelic verse is considered not just beautiful and truthful, but sacred in itself. We find it (and certain other meters) in Scripture, as is discussed here.

For now, let us look at the meter itself.

The first two lines of our fragment (spoken by Ithelya’s mother, Queen Ehrejene) are as follows (I am showing the beat pattern below them):

Welcome thee Daughter, and enter thee close to our presence,


Speak freely the words that thy heart has engaged thee to say.


Note that the first line has a chelanic ending and the second a melinic ending (it is traditionally that way around).

Note also that while each line has five beats with two unstressed syllables between each, the first line begins on the first beat, while the second has one unstressed syllable before the first beat. This is something that can confuse those unfamiliar with the meter. The first beat can be preceded by one, or two unstressed syllables, or by none. This does not affect the structure of the meter, though it can mean one has to work out how a particular line should be read (I find this may happen once every 20 or 30 lines — a more experienced reader would rarely or never have this problem and a less experienced one might have more difficulty at first).

Let us take another two lines:

What is there more to be said, O most wise among childer?


All I should teach thee is by thee already beknown.


Alternate chelanic and melinic again (of course). Both lines begin on the stress, but note that — from the standpoint of the meter — the second line could have been:

All the things I should teach thee are by thee already beknown.


The line here is two syllables longer, but the two unstressed syllables before the first beat do not affect the meter. Now in fact there are reasons why the original is a better line. The stress is thrown on “all” rather than “things”, which is better rhetorically, and the two initial stresses give force to these lines, which are characterized by a strong and simple question. Also we will find that the pattern of strong and weaker beginnings are part of the music or rhetorical pattern of the poem — but this is a subtle matter.

What is important now is to understand that metrically the two versions of the line are equivalent, and either form (as well as the one between them with only one unstressed syllable preceding the first beat) can and will be used in Ithelic verse.

And now, since you have sat so patiently through my ungainly explanations, you shall have a reward. Here is the fragment of the Ithelya. See if you can read it aloud with the proper rhythm:

Ehrejene: Welcome thee, Daughter, and enter thee close to our presence,
Speak freely the words that thy heart has engaged thee to say.

Ithelya: What is to say, shining Sun, that is not said already?
Or what words of mine can recolor the hue of thy heart?

Ehrejene: Speak you again, good my child, of these wearisome matters?
Wherefore come you nigh the great throne but to trouble me thus?
Are they not settled and done, O most radiant Daughter?
And wherefore should the Child seek to color the heart of the Rayin?
Should not the heart of the Rayin be steadfast and unchanging?
Should it not weather the storm-winds, withstand the high flood?
Alter not in its bearing by even the breadth of a finger?
Alter not though a Child may weep tears that shall call forth her own?

Ithelya: All you say is most true, O most royal and radiant Mother.
For the words of the Rayin are like Scripture writ down in a book,
And whoso shall alter the book hath forsaken the pathway,
The pathway that leadeth the soul into radiant light.

Ehrejene: What is there more to be said, O most wise among childer?
All I should teach thee is by thee already beknown.
Go then thy ways and let peace ever cradle thy spirit,
Thy turbulent spirit that troubles herself without cause.
Go then thy ways, or yet better, remain with thy mother,
With thy Mother that loveth thee near; and disturb not the Rayin.

Ithelya: To my Mother most lief will I fly, like a bird at the even;
Like a bird that is young and whose small wings do tire from long flight;
Like a bird that hath held herself up on the wind’s mighty stairway,
Hath held herself up by a strength she doth scarcely possess.
To my Mother most lief will I come when my long flight is ended,
And that it were ended betimes doth my heart most desire,
Yet desireth in vain, for still must I bear myself upward,
Ever up must I climb to the radiant feet of the Rayin.

Ehrejene: O, Ithelie, my Child—

Ithelya:                          no, I pray thee, break not my flight’s rhythm,
For it cometh not easy, this scaling the wind’s subtle thread;
Neither call me thy Child, for I speak to thee not as a Daughter:
I speak to thee now as a Princess may speak to the Rayin.
O, most far-raying Sun, ’tis the Moon that has enter’d thy presence,
Who would tell thee of what she hath seen by her own lesser light.
For the words of the Rayin are like Scripture inscrib’d on a tablet,
And whoso shall change the least jot of them, surely she sins,
All these things know I well, and it needeth no Rani to teach me
For the Scripture is sure and eternal — but not so the Scribe.
The Scribe is a right goodly maid that is true to her calling,
Yet her finger may slip: and the light, may it not fail her eye?
And the Rayin, at the last, is a Scribe; and the words she declaimeth,
Are they not copied from those that are written on high?

Ehrejene: Say on then, Princess, and tell us what means this oration,
What is this light from the Moon that may darken the Sun?

Ithelya: Darken the Sun? O, my Lady, thy jesting words chill me,
For they may hold a truth far more dreadful and dark than you deem.


For a description and analysis of the use of Ithelic meter in Scripture see:

Filianic Scriptures: A Look at Their Music