In a Word.....

.....word. Patsy McGarry

 

“Words are like leaves; and where they most abound/Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found,” wrote one of my favourite Popes.

I refer to early 18th century English poet Alexander Pope. Even in first year at St Nathy’s in Ballaghaderreen I recognised the wisdom behind that astute observation. It has been reinforced many times since.

We were introduced to it by an older teacher who smelled of cigarette smoke as he walked up and down the classroom waxing enthusiastic about the line. He instructed: “..write this down!” We did. It is probably why I remember it still.

Even then I wondered how this man could still be so enthusiastic about a line he had probably introduced to many generations of pupils before. He had taught my uncle over 30 years earlier. He had taught every teacher in the school. All priests, except for one other lay man like himself.

But he loved the language. And good handwriting, as I would find out to my cost. He gave us an essay to write and, days later, asked me to read mine to the class. I stood up and struggled immediately.

I couldn’t read my own handwriting. He was not happy. He lifted me by what passed for my locks in those days and so I became the first in our class to get one of his infamous `wiggins’. Despite which I still struggle to read my handwriting, now infinitely worse than in those years.

The experience is probably another reason why I enjoy reading Alexander Pope, that dry wit and hilarious juxtaposition. He who also wrote what have become some of the better known lines in the English language.

Such as “blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed” (I expect that also applies to `she’); and “to err is human, to forgive, divine” or “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

There’s also “a little learning is a dangerous thing”; “what reason weaves, by passion is undone”; “hope springs eternal in the human breast”.

Or Hampton Court where “at ev’ry word a reputation dies” and those “hungry judges” who “soon the sentence sign,/And wretches hang that jury-men may dine.” Much more. What’s not to like!

Thank you Bill O’Reilly for the introduction. RIP.

Word from Old English word , for ‘speech, talk, utterance.’

inaword@irishtimes.com

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