Gossamer Gowns and Transparent Tippets

From the Online Dictionary of Etymology (yes, I do own thousands of ACTUAL books, but the OED is handy) –

gossamer (n.) Look up gossamer at Dictionary.comc.1300, “spider threads spun in fields of stubble in late fall,” apparently from gos “goose” + sumer “summer” (cf. Swedish sommertrad “summer thread”). The reference might be to a fancied resemblance of the silk to goose down, or because geese are in season then. The German equivalent mädchensommer (lit. “girls’ summer”) also has a sense of “Indian summer,” and the English word originally may have referred to a warm spell in autumn before being transferred to a phenomenon especially noticable then. Cf. obsolete Scottish go-summer “period of summer-like weather in late autumn.” Meaning “anything light or flimsy” is from c.1400. The adjective sense “filmy” is attested from 1802.”

Have you ever heard anything more poetic than ‘ spider threads spun in fields of stubble in late fall”?  Gossamer is used to describe butterfly wings, angel’s gowns, the quality of garments that float around the edges of apparitions that appear in hallucinations and in dreams.  Emily Dickinson uses it in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”:

“Or rather – He (Death) passed us/The Dews drew quivering and chill – /For only Gossamer, my Gown – / My tippit – only Tulle’.   A tippet is a stole or scarf, so she is lightly dressed in the chill as Death brushes past in his carriage.

I like this word with ‘diaphanous’; translucent, transparent, pellucid, limpid, lucid – the fabric of the ethereal realm.


About hickson1

Art historian, professor, Italian Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Italophile
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