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Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"
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Author:  Ser [ Fri Jun 24, 2016 7:25 am ]
Post subject:  Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

"Sky" and "sea" are words that often have poetic synonyms in languages. For a conlang of mine, I came up with a poetic word for "the sky at night full of stars", and yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find Mandarin actually has a word for this: 星空 xīngkōng (literally "star-sky"). (Note that 空 kōng by itself is typically an adjective meaning "empty", with nounal "sky" as a secondary meaning. I've mosty seen 空 kōng when meaning 'sky'. The normal words for "sky" are 天 tiān and the compound 天空 tiānkōng.)

What are some poetic synonyms for "sky" and "sea" that you know? If you can provide any commentary on the words, that would be even better.



English of course has "the heavens". And I think I've seen "the deep" used for the sea, but obviously rather specifically the underwater parts of the oceans, without including the surface.

(Apparently, "the firmament" is a word in English. Has anybody seen it in poetry? Also, I'm not an avid reader of English poetry, but I've sometimes seen the sky getting called "the aether" in some contexts—any comments on this one?)



Spanish similarly has the plural los cielos, which has biblical connotations (unlike English "the heavens", as far as I can tell), possibly because in Spanish "the Kingdom of Heaven" is translated as el reino de los cielos. El firmamento is another synonym, largely poetic.

The usual Spanish poetic word for "the sea" is la mar, which is the common word for the sea but with the opposite gender (normally the word is masculine: el mar). There are also a couple other synonyms for the sea, more poetic and much less widely understood by native speakers, both borrowed straight from Latin (which borrowed them from Greek): piélago and ponto. I find piélago very interesting because it has the e > ie sound change, typical of words that evolved naturally from Latin into the language—could it be it used to be a more common word in the past? Latin pelagus was poetic only in Classical Latin proper, but it is commonly found in prose in the periods afterward!



Latin poetry used the Greek borrowings aether (aetheris/aetheros, hic) and aethra (aethrae, haec) for the sky. It also had the poetic expression sub dīvō/dīvum 'under the sky', using a nominalization of the adjective dīvus 'divine'. For the sea, it commonly used a word that usually meant 'even surface', aequor (aequoris, hoc)... besides the Greek borrowings pelagus (pelagī, hoc(!)) and pontus (pontī, hic).

Author:  Salmoneus [ Fri Jun 24, 2016 8:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Alon [ Fri Jun 24, 2016 7:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

The Hebrew word for sky, shamayim, is etymologically the word for there (sham) plus a no-longer-productive dual suffix; the word takes plural agreement as a result (as do inherently dual nouns like pants, glasses, and scissors). There is no poetic term like heavens or firmament. The Hebrew word for heaven in the religious sense is literally the Garden of Eden, "gan eden."

At sea, the situation is more like English. People do say "the abyss" and "the depths," both of which are to my understanding calques from English.

Author:  Astraios [ Sat Jun 25, 2016 4:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Salmoneus [ Sat Jun 25, 2016 11:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

For the sea, there's also the old expression "the main", literally meaning "strength". As in Tennyson, "and the little Revenge herself went down in the island crags / to be lost evermore in the main."
This is particularly famous in the fixed expression, "the azure main", a quote from Thomson's "Rule, Britannia": "when Britain first, at Heaven's command / arose from out the azure main..."

Author:  Zaarin [ Sat Jun 25, 2016 11:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Sumelic [ Sat Jun 25, 2016 12:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

Another in English is "welkin." Although it's perhaps more archaic than poetic these days.

Author:  Alon [ Sat Jun 25, 2016 4:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Salmoneus [ Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

It should probably be pointed out that historically these expressions like 'dome of the sky' and so forth may have been verbose, but they weren't metaphorical. The sky was believed to be a solid dome or vault.

Author:  zompist [ Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  spanick [ Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

There's also the Old English and Old Norse kennings like hwæl-rad and hron-rad "whale road" along with others like "swan road", "sail way", "whale way", etc. all meaning the sea or ocean. For the sky, I can't think of any but a brief search yielded Ymis-hauss "Ymir's skull" for sky from ON.

Author:  Nortaneous [ Sun Jun 26, 2016 3:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Vijay [ Sun Jun 26, 2016 3:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Jun 27, 2016 8:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  zompist [ Mon Jun 27, 2016 4:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Salmoneus [ Mon Jun 27, 2016 6:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  zompist [ Tue Jun 28, 2016 1:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  So Haleza Grise [ Mon Jul 11, 2016 7:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  finlay [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 6:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"

what about Davy Jones' locker?

Author:  Abi [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 8:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Vijay [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 8:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Zaarin [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 10:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Vijay [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 10:59 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  ---- [ Wed Jul 13, 2016 11:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


Author:  Zaarin [ Thu Jul 14, 2016 11:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Poetic words for "sky" and "sea"


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