Didst Thou Eye Up My Pint

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.” But I soon exempted myself from such theatricalities, especially when I started finding my social life among the young musicians.

You wouldn’t hear that sort of thing across a crowded Grafton Street these days, since the intervening years have brought deleterious effects of televisual communication on people’s eloquence and the domination of that thoroughfare by men covered in metallic paint and throngs entranced by the strains of some tube playing the Hamlet advert with a saw. The closest you might hear is ‘you charity collectors are total fuckers’.


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January 2008
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