Heft: to be bound or bonded; love; to be in place, to be placed, to be place: Its modern form indicates a weight, or heaviness, weighed by hand. No scale required. You lift a thing to get its heft, that kind of thing.
Fair enough, but that’s not the only heft there is. Today I’m getting ready to introduce my book The Art of Haying, to the Edmonton Poetry Festival.
I’m thinking about being hefted, here on the Canadian prairies, so far from home. I’m thinking of an older word, hæft: a bondage, an imprisonment, a chaining to a thing. That’s the one I want. This is a word still used to talk about sheep who have become hefted, or bound, to a mountain. They need no fences to keep them to it, because the mountain and the sheep are one.
There is a modern meaning for this word as well. It’s haft, as in the haft, or handle, of an axe, which has that weight that one hefts. In German, it’s die Haft. A rough translation is: imprisonment. This haft was, originally, similar to the English. The English might have been the handle one gripped and the weight one felt as an extension of one’s body, as if one had moved out into it and was free, but this German was the grip of a hand on a person, as felt by that person, abstracted into the grip of a leg iron or the grip of the law, and transferred to the loss of freedom that grip entailed.
This is the way I look at nationhood, away from my beloved volcanic rock. I suspect it’s how Gunnar felt, away from the East Fjords.
I’ll tell you, though. The sheep didn’t look at it that way. Really, it’s only a modern way of thinking: the deprivation of the individual of free movement without boundaries. Boundaries can be liberating. Even horses aren’t particularly perturbed.
The old meaning, to be hefted to a mountain, is similar to another English word, haunt. To be haunted is to be home, to have your spirit so identified with a place that even after death you cannot leave your haunt, or home. It has nothing to do with ghosts. It’s a love of place. I love this place.
It brings me great joy. I haunt it. I am hefted to it. But I’m fine with the modern meanings as well: I am haunted by it; I am in haft. I feel its grip. I give myself to it. I am bound.
The new words are great for the new world. For the things the world has forgotten and is trying to remember through us, the old ones still live. If you ever wonder about that, just ask the neighbours.