The title of this thread has probably scared everybody off. I can't remember now where and when I first came across the expression "mensural hyperbole", but it means the literary device whereby something homely and everyday is elevated to cosmic dimensions. Obviously we're not talking about realistic modern fiction here - this is a literary trope from epic and mythology.
There is a fine example in Finland's national epic, the "Kalevala". A mother is weeping for her daughter, drowned in the river:
"The mother wept, a tear rolled:
her plentiful waters rolled
out of her blue eyes
to her luckless cheeks.
they rolled to the ground for the ground's sake
to the water for the water's sake.
The waters reaching the ground
began to form a river
and three rivers grew
from the tears she wept
that came from her head
that went from beneath her brow.
In each river grew
three fiery rapids;
on each rapid's foam
three crags sprouted up
and on each crag's edge
a golden knoll rose
and on each knoll's peak
there grew three birches;
in each birch's top
there were three golden cuckoos."
Then the poet brings the story back down to earth, to the mother who complains that the sound of the cuckoo in spring, instead of bringing joy at the rebirth of nature, brings only sorrow, for it reminds her of her loss:
'Let a luckless mother not
listen long to the cuckoo!
When the cuckoo is calling
my heart is throbbing
tears come to my eyes
waters down my cheeks
flow thicker than peas
and fatter than beans;
by an ell my life passes
by a span my frame grows old
my whole body is blighted
when I hear the spring cuckoo.'
(Keith Bosley (transl.) "The Kalevala" (OUP, 1989) ).
I think there's something very moving about the way in which the woman's private grief becomes a world-changing cataclysm before shrinking back into the private grief of a bereft mother listening to the cuckoo in spring.
Since reading the "Kalevala" years ago I've been keen to find other examples of "mensural hyperbole", but I've been reading the wrong kind of literature. Ironically, I've just come across another example I ought to have known about, and I discovered it in the potboiler I'm currently reading. I won't go into details about this book, save to say that it makes "The Da Vinci Code" look like Dostoevsky. However, it contains an interesting ragbag of half-digested mythology and epic literature, and I was grabbed by the following:
"Arabian storytellers ... described how two angels had appeared before David, after he had married Bathsheba, and convinced him of his sin. Racked with grief, David was to have thrown himself to the ground and lain there, weeping bitter tears of penitence for forty days and forty nights, during which time he was deemed to have wept 'as many tears as the whole human race would shed on account of their sins, from then on and until the Day of Judgement.' The two streams of his tears were said to have flowed out into the garden, where with time, two trees sprang up: the Frankincense Tree, constantly distilling tears of sorrow, and the Weeping Willow, its boughs drooping with grief."
Given that ostensibly pagan literature (like the Kalevala) is often nevertheless tinged with Christian imagery - e.g. the Icelandic Edda poem about Odin hanging on the tree for three days and nights suffering torments to discover the secrets of the runes for mankind has obvious parallels with Christ on the cross - I'm now wondering if all "mensural hyperbole", in European literature at least, can be traced back to the Bible.
If anyone has found other examples of this literary device in their reading, I would be interested to hear about them.