Friday, 25 November 2011

'Footfalls echo in the memory...' Sue Purkiss

I've just re-read Terry Pratchett's book, Lords and Ladies - such fun! Part of the renowned  Discworld series, it stars the three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. It also features the wizards - in particular, Archchancellor Ridcully. At one point, a bandit chieftain foolishly holds up the coach which is carrying Ridcully, the Bursar, the Librarian and Ponder Stibbins. The chieftain sees the wizard's staff poking out of the window.

'Now then,' he said pleasantly. 'I know the rules. Wizards aren't allowed to use magic against civilians except in genuine lifethreatening situa-' 
    There was a burst of octarine light.
    'Actually, it's not a rule,' said Ridcully. 'It's more a guideline.'

How familiar was that? It's almost exactly what Captain Barbarossa declared in Pirates of the Caribbean, when Keira Knightley called on him to stick to the terms of the Pirates' Charter. I think that bit was used in a trailer; it was certainly quoted in reviews as one of the funniest lines in the film. But here it was: Lords and Ladies was published in 1992. Terry Pratchett wrote it first.

I'd be willing to bet that whoever wrote the script didn't realise the line was second-hand. For some reason, it resonated, as it did with me: it lodged in the scriptwriter's mind, and out it popped when it was needed. He probably had no idea he'd first seen the line in the book.

It made me think about why it is that some combinations of words are persistent, echoing in the memory long after what surrounded them has been forgotten. I haven't come up with any answers so far, but I have come up with some examples. Here are my first ten. They're in no particular order, and they're not necessarily accurate - they're as I remember them. Incidentally, I don't have a good memory for quotes - or for jokes - so if I remember something, it must have very considerable staying power!

'Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams...'
(W B Yeats - the whole poem is gorgeous. It's lovely as a song, too.)

'Christ if my love were in my arms'
And I in my bed again!
Anon (but very old!)

'Today was bad, but tomorrow will be beyond all imagining...'
Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising

'Je crains notre victoire, autant que notre perte.'
This is from a French A-level text, Horace, by Corneille. It means 'I fear our victory as much as our defeat'. I think the speaker had a lover on one side of the battle and a brother on the other. Beyond that, I remember nothing about the play, and I've no idea why this phrase has stuck. Mind you, now I come to think about it, there are all sorts of situations to which it could apply.

'The drunkenness of things being various.'
(From Snow, by Louis MacNeice)

'We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.'
(The Sunlight on the Garden, also MacNeice)

'I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams...'
(Shakespeare's Hamlet)

'Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...'
(Casablanca - like Shakespeare, the source of so many resonant quotes.)

'I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not like this. Not on the cess of war.'
(Wilfred Owen: Strange Meeting)

'Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.'

(From T S Eliot's Burnt Norton - as is the quote I used for the title of this post. And here's a picture of a rose garden, just to remind us of summer. It's at Hestercombe, in Somerset)

Do you have any similarly sticky quotes? Or, to borrow from Eliot - footfalls which echo in the memory, as these do in mine?


Abi Burlingham said...

What a lovely, interesting post. Sadly, my memory for words isn't good. In fact, I tend to remember bits and fill in the gaps with my own! But something I read as a child sticks in my mind and it is a Spike Milligan poem, Myxomatosis, and goes 'A baby rabbit. With eyes full of pus. This is the work. Of scientific us.' The image isn't a pleasant one and was summed up so well in these few lines, that it has always stayed with me.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

It can even be just a couple of words for me. Something from a meaningful email or text, or just something enigmatic like "Rara avis". And they get recalled years later.

Susan Price said...

Another quote from Pratchett, from his latest, 'Snuff'. Commander Vimes is thinking of taking his small son to meet the lady who writes the boy's favourite books. Vimes thinks, 'Since she's a writer, she won't mind being interrupted.' I LOLed and nearly dropped me kindle!
Why do some lines stick in the memory? - Surely because they're things 'often thought but ne'er so well expressed.'

Susan Price said...

I meant to add - lovely post!

Penny Dolan said...

A poem I read last night (and that I can't help being moved by) is by RLS: "Christmas at Sea". It's about being aboard a sailing ship and the struggles of the sailors trying to make it around a headland. The ship goes so close to shore that "he" can see his village & family home on that headland. although they do not know he is passing on board the ship. It ends with:

"And they heav'd a mighty breath, every soul aboard but me, / As they saw her nose again pointing out to sea: /But all that I could think of in the darkness and the cold / Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old."

Will go and sit by myself for a while now. Sniff!

Penny Dolan said...

Love that Vimes quote!!!!!

Joan Lennon said...

"As highly bred as a hill-top bakery ..."
Pratchett again. When my dad was having chemo I collected Pratchettisms to tell him over the phone - a good phone call was one where I could get him to laugh!

I wonder if it has to do with rhythm, these phrases that stick in our minds?

Thanks for the great post!

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks for all your comments, and sorry I wasn't able to get back to you earlier. More lovely quotes - and so many from Terry Pratchett!

madwippitt said...

"I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he/ I galloped, Dirk galloped, we galloped all three" - we were forced to learn acres of poetry at school, and very little now remains wedged between my ears except for that particular, wonderfully galloping text!

And 'Home is the sailor, home from sea/ And the hunter home from the hill' That was in a book by Rumer Godden which I had as a child, and for some reason it stuck in my mind. I've just looked it up and fund it was RLS's chosen inscription for his gravestone.

Isn't it weird, the t5hings that stick?