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The poem Gnomica by Siarhiej Dziarhaj starts as follows:

The tear is always bitter,
And sweat is salty,
And blood is crimson,
And grief is murky.

What does the word "Gnomica" mean in this context?

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  • Could you revise the question to provide a link to the entire poem? If it isn't available online, could you provide a bibliographic reference? Also, who is the translator? Is "Gnomica" the title in the original? Thanks!
    – verbose
    Apr 7, 2023 at 21:13
  • @verbose Translator is Vera Rich. The poem appears on page 253 of Like Water, like Fire. I'm on mobile right now, but I can also transcribe it later. Apr 7, 2023 at 21:21
  • this may help, especially the Etymology section down below. Apr 8, 2023 at 1:22

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It is difficult to find Belarusian poetry online, and I have not been able to find the original poem by Dziarhaj. So I will assume that the translated version quoted here, from the poetry anthology Like Water, like Fire collected and translated by Vera Rich, is a faithful translation of the original.

The title Gnomica indicates that the poem consists of gnomic sayings, i.e. aphoristic verse containing pithy statements about morality or wisdom. Such sayings were called "gnomes" (gnomikos) by the ancient Greeks, meaning "appertaining to an opinion or aphorism". As the wikipedia article notes:

A gnome was defined by the Elizabethan critic Henry Peacham as "a saying pertaining to the manners and common practices of men, which declareth, with an apt brevity, what in this our life ought to be done, or not done".

A gnomic saying could be something like "a fool learns by experience" (Hesiod), or "a mother can always tell". The poem opens with four such statements:

The tear is always bitter,
And sweat is salty,
And blood is crimson,
And grief is murky.

It then goes on to consider the truth of each of these statements in turn. For example for the case of tears being bitter:

There are tears of joy, truly,
And in these tears is sweetness ...
But are these teardrops, really?
Nonsense!

Similarly the cases of sweat being salty, blood being red ("... there is blood of blue, born out of the sick fancy of aristocrats enfeebled"), and woe being murky are examined, with the poet concluding by asserting the truth of the initial assertions:

Because, indeed, in life,
The tear is always bitter,
And sweat is salty,
And blood is crimson,
And grief is murky.

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