Glendower: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”
Hotspur: “Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?” (Shakespeare, Kɪɴɢ Hᴇɴʀʏ ᴛʜᴇ Fᴏᴜʀᴛʜ, Pᴀʀᴛ I, Act 3, Scene 1)
This famous passage was my introduction to the word “vasty”. I came across it while studying Shakespeare in school. (My teachers made the subject really fun — in part, by explaining all the playwright’s naughty language that no longer translates.)
Vasty, of course, is merely an archaic way of saying “vast” with poetic emphasis. I’m not even sure why I love the word, but I do.
For me it conjures images of the uncharted ocean bottom with its menagerie of bizarre, colorful, sometimes frightful critters. All the deep-sea photography I’ve ever seen or will see, plus all the scenes I can (and can’t) imagine — they’re all wrapped up in that word.
◖A Real Word?◗
Some years ago, at a prayer gathering I attended, one scripture passage referred to “whales that plunge in the vasty deep”. The reader burst into laughter, apologizing for her inability to keep a straight face. “That isn’t even a real word,” she said.
I’m not sure anyone believed me when I explained its origins and provenance, noting that in this case it seems to allude directly to the Shakespeare quote.
Vasty isn’t a word I’d use myself in everyday speech. But I still love it!
That Hᴇɴʀʏ ᴛʜᴇ Fᴏᴜʀᴛʜ passage, by the way, has another Hotspur saying I like: “O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil!”