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Reflections of a working writer and reader




Denis Donoghue in The Chronicle Review maintains that, unlike rhetoric, eloquence never sent any soldier to be killed in a foreign field.

This is a recollection of his time at University College Dublin in the 1940s:

I was alert to the fact that there were a few cult books that we expected one another to know by heart, including At Swim-Two-Birds and Three Men in a Boat.

Citations from these took the place of conventional greetings. Precocious students would call to each other across a crowded Grafton Street: “Thou hast committed fornication”; and a loud reply was supposed to come: “But that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” Not that we had read The Jew of Malta, the source of that exchange — we had read Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, but not The Jew — but we knew that bit of dialogue because T.S. Eliot had used it as an epigraph to his Portrait of a Lady. Adepts of insult would regularly intone to a friend: “Thou hast nor youth nor age, but as it were an after dinner sleep, dreaming of both” — again one of Eliot’s epigraphs, this one from his poem “Gerontion.”

One Response to “Eloquence”

  1. Paul says:

    When I was a lad, it was Monty Python and T.S. Eliot – Questions were met with a response of “I never expected the Spanish Inquisition” and trips to the pub began, “Let us go then You and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky.”
    I’m sure there is a modern equivalent. Plus ca change etc

    jb says: If there isn’t a modern equivalent, perhaps someone should get to work on it.