If you search for a list of the most beautiful words in the English language, you will most likely discover several lists that include this lovely word — petrichor, defined as the smell that accompanies a first rain. What a magical word! You can close your eyes and breath in, imagining that wonderful smell. While in that state of lexicological bliss, let me introduce you to another beautiful, magical word: psithurism, pronounced “SITH ur iz uhm,” defined as the sound of rustling leaves or the sound of wind in trees. Lovely. Now if you just asked, “Why haven’t I heard that word before?” the answer is simple: sadly, it is a considered an obsolete word. What a shame. The word psithurism is derived from the Ancient Greek word psithurisma or psithurismos from psithurizo (“I whisper”) and psithuros (“whispering”).
The enchanting sound of wind whispering through the trees was captured beautifully in the poem “A Day of Sunshine” by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one of the most beloved American poets of his day. Longfellow is best known for “Paul Revere’s Ride” and the epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” With Christmas around the corner, it is appropriate to acknowledge that his poem “Christmas Bells” (inspired by his son being injured during the American Civil War) is the inspiration for the the popular Christmas carol titled “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The poem “A Day of Sunshine,” inspired by the stunning beauty of New England landscapes, was included in his collection of poems titled Birds of Passage published in 1863:
A Day of Sunshine
O gift of God! O perfect day:
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!
Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.
I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,
Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.
Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach!
O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song!
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?
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