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srmorgan's avatar

Can you help me identify this poem?

Asked by srmorgan (6115 points ) September 17th, 2012

It is just four short lines

Something something or other,
And get closer to the tomb,
I find that I care less and less
Who sleeps with whom. (one or two words missing)

I thought it was Edna Saint Vincent Millay but I can’t find a Google reference for any of the phrases that I remember.
It was published around the time that same-sex marriage came up in the New York legislature but I am stumped every time I look for it.

Thanks to all

SRM

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21 Answers

Kayak8's avatar

As I grow older and older, And totter towards the tomb, I find that I care less and less Who goes to bed with whom.

- Dorothy L(eigh) Sayers
‘That’sWhy I Never Read Modern Novels’, collected in Janet Hitchman Such a Strange Lady (1975), ch.12.

Jeruba's avatar

It has a Dorothy Parker ring to it. I found this here (scroll down a few posts):

The older that I get
And closer to the tomb
The less I seem to care
Who sleeps with whom.
—Dorothy Parker (I believe)

So somebody seems to be recalling the same verse you’re thinking of. (Note that the “I believe” is not mine but that of the person who posted the verse on somebody’s blog.)

However, I think either the quotation or the attribution has to be wrong. Dorothy Parker’s lines read smoothly and scan properly, and those do not.


[Edit] I typed the above and then ran outside to stop the parking enforcement officer from ticketing my car. When I came back and hit ‘Answer,’ @Kayak8 was there ahead of me. I’m pleased to have made a good call on both counts: words and attribution in the quote I found are both incorrectly cited.

gailcalled's avatar

For the record, and the correct metrical beat;

As I grow older and older,
And totter toward the tomb,
I find that I care less and less,
Who goes to bed with whom.

The earlier posts made it easier to find the exact reading.

For some more of the record, Dorothy L. Sayers was the author of the Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels, among other accomplishments. A clever lady;

“Dorothy Leigh Sayers.was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between World War I and World War II that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, that remain popular to this day. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work. She is also known for her plays and essays.” “Source”

Jeruba's avatar

I’m still having trouble with that, @gailcalled. The meter is off. I grant you that’s how it appears online, but that doesn’t mean I’m convinced.

The thing about quotes found online is that one misquote can be picked up and repeated a dozen, a hundred, a thousand times; the number of times something appears a certain way doesn’t guarantee anything. I have seen an awful lot of misquoted poetry online, including not only scanning errors and typos and errors in transcription but versions that dared to correct the grammar of a Poe or Keats.

I would have to see this in print—and in an old enough edition to have been reliably edited and proofread—to believe that it really has an extra half foot in the first line. This quarter (laying my bet on the table) predicts that it’s going to turn out to be “As I grow old and older.”

Kayak8's avatar

@Jeruba I totally agree with you and that is how I was saying it in my head (old and older). Need to do some more digging.

gailcalled's avatar

@Jeruba: Good point about the first line.

Frost and other contemporary poets believed that surprising the reader by changing the expected meter was a necessary part of a good poem.

But Sayers might have not been so serious over doggerel.

I won’t take the bet.

“As I grow old and older” works better.

6rant6's avatar

Another version:

As years come in and years go out
I totter toward the tomb,
Still caring less and less about
Who goes to bed with whom

This is from Google books’, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1951–1957 : in the midst of life

If the only source is her letters, I suppose its reasonable to suppose she might have used it more than once, and refined it along the way.

flutherother's avatar

“As I grow old and older” is definitely better but I don’t think that’s what she wrote. I’ll take your bet.

PS Dorothy L Sayers wrote advertising jingles for a living at one time including this famous one for Guinness:

“If he can say as you can
Guinness is good for you
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do.”

Response moderated (Spam)
Jeruba's avatar

So who’s going to go to the library and find a hard-cover source that’s old enough (let’s say before 1980) to be authoritative?

I don’t trust Google Books because those texts are just scanned, often carelessly, and OCR readers rarely pick up all characters correctly.

gailcalled's avatar

@Jeruba: All those who vote for @Jeruba, please raise your hand.

Kayak8's avatar

Here is one hand up voting in support of the above motion from @gailcalled!

6rant6's avatar

@Jeruba Well, OCR doesn’t get WORDS wrong and Google’s minions proof. I would certainly consider a Google-scanned copy of a book the author published as authoritative (although not necessarily the only real version.) But the book I listed is compiled by someone else so it’s not as good as getting a look at Dorothy Sayer’s tattoos.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, it does, @6rant6. A typical OCR-type error is, for example, to read “burn” as “bum.” I have never seen an OCR-scanned text that was error free, and some of them are borderline incomprehensible. And proofreading is an art; seeing what’s really there instead of what your eye expects is not something everyone can do, even assuming they know when a word is misspelled.

Moreover, when you have amateurs correcting text, the kids of errors I mentioned above can creep in easily—for example, overcorrecting punctuation in poetry and taking liberties with a competent author’s grammar.

Kayak8's avatar

@jeruba’s post is a perfect example (kids vs. kinds of errors). We all do it and it takes a real professional to catch most of the glaring stuff.

Jeruba's avatar

Well caught, @Kayak8. I make mistakes all the time, and I know I don’t spot them all. If this were going into print, I’d thank you profusely for every error you caught because that’s one less goof to expose to public view.

Kayak8's avatar

@Jeruba I feel the same way. Gratefully, my boss is a very good editor and most of my errors are caught before they progress up the food chain!

6rant6's avatar

@Jeruba I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

1) Google double checks. The fact that you have seen badly done scanning is hardly evidence of Google’s incompetence. Your mistakes don’t reflect Google either. The fact that you have never seen an error free scan is not evidence either, unless you are saying you have read a lot of Google books. Besides, common sense can catch most of the errors – as @kayak caught yours. Or “Burn” to “Bum.”

2) Your example, burn to bum, while clever, is not the same thing as “years go by” to “older.”

Would it kill you to agree with me? That’s rhetorical. I already know.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)

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