O Lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by MJRupeJM, Nov 2, 2009.

  1. MJRupeJM Senior Member

    English- U.S.
    "O Lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again."

    This is the most famous line from Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. It appears in the book a number of times, so I think it stands best alone, without additional context.

    My only interpretation is that the "ghost" is "grieved" "by the wind", so it could phrased alternatively:
    "O lost and the ghost grieved by the wind, come back again."

    My gut tells me this is correct and is the only thing it could mean.
    Does anyone have a different interpretation, whether they think it correct in context or not?
  2. tannen2004 Senior Member

    Hmmm... I would have thought it was "O lost ghost, grieved by the wind, come back again", addressing just the ghost instead of both the lost and the ghost.

    I haven't read the book, so I can't speak to the context, so my idea may be totally off.
  3. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I think the ghost is being addressed; it is lost, and the wind grieves for it:
    O ghost, lost, and grieved by the wind, come back again.
    Actually, more context would enable us to get more from this.

    Edit: Tannen posted as I was writing this. I think we agree.
  4. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I agree with tannen and Cagey:)
  5. Fingon Senior Member

    English - USA
    I agree with Tannen.
  6. MJRupeJM Senior Member

    English- U.S.
    I like that interpretation much better than my original one, but I think, based on the context of the entire novel, that "lost" refers to multiple people. So all you interpretations have led me to a new, third take on it:

    "Oh the ghost lost, grieved by the wind, come back again"
    where "ghost" functions as an adjective modifying "lost," meaning, the people lost.

    My original problem was that I felt "lost" must a plural noun rather than adjective, so why was "ghost" not plural? Does this make sense to all of you? Do you think "ghost" can function as I believe it does?
  7. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't see why you think "lost" should be plural:confused: Doesn't it simply refer to the singular "ghost"?
  8. Fingon Senior Member

    English - USA
    No. :) I really don't see where you're going here. Since this is one sentence, what do you think the subject is.
  9. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Yes, now we need more context.

    Maybe you should see whether the context in this Wikiquote interests you. If so, please include it. (Please select no more than three additional sentences, to keep within our limit of four sentences quoted from any one source.)
  10. MJRupeJM Senior Member

    English- U.S.
    "A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces. ... Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When? O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again"

    The full quote can be found at Cagey's link. This entire paragraph occurs at the very beginning of the novel. I believe "Lost" must be plural because many people are "lost" (die) in the book ("all the forgotten faces")

    As I said, I think my new interpretation is best in context if it makes sense grammatically...is the consensus that it does not? Has anyone read the book who could set me straight if I am totally wrong here?
  11. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Now you're setting the goalposts really high, MJ!:D

    But I still see "lost" as referring to "ghost"...!
  12. MJRupeJM Senior Member

    English- U.S.
    Yes, too much wishful thinking on my part perhaps. An interesting side note, however; it seems everyone who has viewed this thread has replied. Everyone has an opinion; I thank you all for that.
  13. Fingon Senior Member

    English - USA
    Haha, your welcome! :D

    The problem with your interpretation is that it doesn't explain the rest of the sentence. If "lost" refered to all those other things and was the subject of the imperative "come back again", then "ghost" does not fit anywhere grammatically, nor does "and by the wind grieved".
  14. MJRupeJM Senior Member

    English- U.S.
    Ah, yes, this is why I am asking--I'm no grammarian. I think my problem is that I think it means something, and I'm trying to make that meaning fit with the actual words.

    I see (or, saw) it to mean, basically: O lost ghost (people), come back again, where the fact that they are grieved by the wind makes them ghosts (I imagine the howling of the wind to be behind many supposed ghosts) Another way to say it might be, O People lost, and by the grieving of the wind, ghosts, come back again.

    I guess this just doesn't make sense though...
  15. Fingon Senior Member

    English - USA
    Oh, I guess I was just looking at the sentence only in a grammatical way. I think I see what you were after.
  16. grindermonkey New Member

    Regarding Thomas Wolfe's "O lost and by the wind grieved..." passage; if you have lived or visited Asheville, NC and particularly the Smoky Mountains to the south you can experience the atmospherics of the place, the wind and rain cascade through the valleys and passes to create a tangible backdrop for Wolfe's many fine books.

    I grew up there and lived in Montford where the fabled Dixieland once stood. The great houses, the Grove Park Inn, downtown 'Altamont' and other attractions all provide a glimpse into the Home that the Angel longed to return to. Western North Carolina and its all too human people inspired the "lyrics" of Wolfe's book and were his muse, his inspiration, his great idea, his a priori beginning, his personal longing. His lyrical prose speaks to us all in a magnificent way inspiring us to similar accomplishment. The phrase animates its origin, the mountains, it expresses Thomas Wolfe's longing for a past and a respite from the relentless progress of time.

    The ghost represents remembered time, the wind, the voice of the earth.

    For the writer or word smith the phrase may be more immediately inspiring as:

    Lost and bereaved by the wind, Oh muse, come home again.

    When I visit Wolfe's grave and look across the French Broad River below and the Smoky Mountains far beyond his ghost often passes and says, "Editing is okay."
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2010
  17. Hugh Askew New Member

    English - American
    grindermonkey got it right.
    To quote this passage, without having read the book is almost criminal. Read it.
    That passage is a recurring theme that, at times, will wrench your soul.
  18. donhernani New Member

    However the line is interpreted, has any chapter title in a biography ever been lovelier than the one in A. Scott Berg's life of Scribner's editor Max Perkins ("Editor of Genius") describing the death of this most challenging of Perkins' many famous clients: "By the wind grieved..."
  19. herman48 New Member

    I am no Thomas Wolfe expert, though I was a high school English teacher for 27 years and read Look Homeward, Angel at least seven times. IMHO the "ghost" is the narrator's past. It's not just people, swept away by time, that the wind is grieving in that famous sentence (which, undoubtedly, means "O lost ghost grieved by the wind come back again" but is expressed in a much more poetic and musical manner, almost syncopated by the insertion, between commas, of "and by the wind grieved.") The context, too, appears to indicate that the ghost is not any one person or thing, but many people, places, events and possibly the narrator's youth and innocence that he's vainly trying to find again behind a door, under a leaf, and through reminiscing. I am an old man. I left my native country and a great love which--unfortunately--went sour and left a gaping wound in my heart. Almost 50 years later I occasionally find myself reminiscing about my past and secretly wishing that there were a door, a wormhole, a time machine able to carry me back to that lost world. But it's very likely that it's not just that time, its places, its people and its events--both sad and happy-- that I would like to go back to, but myself when I was young and the world was an oyster waiting for me to shuck and savor it. The future was full of promises then. Life kept very few of them, if any. I keep on finding new meanings in Wolfe's novel every time I re-read it, probably because as time goes by the past appears better than the present and infinitely better than the future. I am an old man, as I already said. I might add that when one considers the statement made by Wolfe that being born is like going into exile, then the novel's title which, although it refers to one of the funerary statues made by the narrator's father, may in fact signify that possibly death is the end of the exile and that when one nears death one can't help looking homeward, that is, the state of absolute innocence that preceded birth and the people and events that gradually destroyed innocence. And in this case, what is hidden under a stone, a leaf or behind a secret door is that previous state of innocence which is lost and grieved throughout a man's physical existence.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
  20. Hildy1 Senior Member

    English - US and Canada
    I read the book once only, a long time ago. Like herman - who is much better qualified to answer (seven times, wow!) - I have always assumed that the speaker is addressing a ghost (the ghost of the past) which is lost and is grieved by the wind.

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