"The scene is instant, whole and wonderful. In its beauty and design that vision of the soaring stands, the pattern of forty thousand empetalled faces, the velvet and unalterable geometry of the playing field, and the small lean figures of the players, set there, lonely, tense, and waiting in their places, bright, desperate solitary atoms encircled by that huge wall of nameless faces, is incredible."
(Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River, 1935)
I can't make sense of 'empetalled'. What's the meaning of 'empetalled faces'?
"Empetalled" means generally speaking that petals have been put round, or are on, something. "Forty thousand empetalled faces" could refer to forty thousand flowers, or he could be speaking of the 40,000 people whose faces are framed with "petals" -- e.g. hats, scarves, etc.
"Empetalled" is a formulation which takes the noun "petal" and turns it into a adjective which means possessing or covered with petals.
There is an example in Anthony Burgess' Dead Man in Deptford which describes a pot of flowers overturning over soles of feet which thus became "wet and empetalled".
The Lyra Celtica has a line "Shell-empetalled sand" -- i.e. sand with shells sprinkled on, like petals.
The formulation is found in words such as "empowered" or "emblazoned". "Empowered" means power has been bestowed on someone. "Emblazoned" means that something has been decorated with one or more blazons (a heraldic shield; coat of arms).