Do not use the word “gyre”
Sound advice for poets appeared in the TLS recently, in the form of “English Provincial Poetry” by Miles Burrows: the would-be versifier is counselled to refrain from quoting Dante as an epigraph (“This will look / Like pampas grass in front of a 1950s terraced house”) and given constructive suggestions about the objective correlative (“This could be a sunset, often a wild bird . . .”).
Also, Burrows advises: do not use the word “gyre”. “This can produce a severe reaction / In some readers. The same goes for ‘desolate’. . . ”.
How right he is. “Gyre”, however, has had many fans, going back beyond W. B. Yeats to Bishop Joseph Hall (who writes of the life of scholarship: “others run still in the same gyre to weariness, to satiety; our choice is infinite”), Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson (who has now reached Huntingdon).
Yeats can perhaps only be blamed for the rise of “gyre” as a noun; it’s Lewis Carroll’s wabe-gyring (and wabe-gymbling) “slythy toves” who made it popularly quotable as a verb.
Taking a “route one” approach to its continued usage, Google’s Ngram Viewer suggests that there are now more gyres than ever.
Ah, that William Butler Yeats and that Lewis Carroll have a lot to answer for.
And in the TLS? There have been a fair few gyres one way and another over the years, many of them Yeats-related. Under that great influence, and going against all Burrows-derived wisdom, Ronald Bottrall put the word into a poem that also recalls Dante in its use of terza rima, “Anniversary”, in 1956:
By fire we are preserved from the foul gyre
That kindles, fridges and consumes its being
In selfish heat and cannibal desire.
But what if it’s 1967 and you’re trying to think up a headline for a review that begins with a whole paragraph about touring London in circles, “gyre by gyre as a pigeon plans its flights”? What headline would you give such a review?
Why, “Good Gyrations”, of course, in homage to the Beach Boys single released the previous autumn.
(Ah, headline writers have a lot to answer for, too.)