Monday, February 6, 2023

Youthful illusions shattered While-U-Wait

Thanks to Miss Ouilda Piner, my English prefessot at Arlington State College (now the University of Texas at Arlington, UTA) back during my sophomore year (1959-60), I have not been able for the past 64 years to enjoy in the way I had previously a poem entitled "To Celia" that was written by the English poet Ben Jonson in 1616. It is perhaps better known as the song "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes".

At our house the song was contained in "The Golden Book Of Favorite Songs" that sat on our piano. The Golden Book also included other old chestnuts such as "Love's Old Sweet Song" and "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" so I thought of it as a sweet love song:

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss within the cup,
And I'll not ask for wine.
The thirst that from the soul dorh rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sip,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honoring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon did'st only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me,
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

Miss Piner's class changed all that. According to Miss Piner, far from being a sweet love song, this poem of Ben Jonson's is a scathing commentary on the state of oral hygiene, or lack thereof, in the 17th century. Apparently people didn't bathe all that often either. There was little emphasis on brushing one's teeth.

I have learned since then that our modern sweet-tasting toothpaste in a tube wasn't invented until the 19th century. Ancient Egyptians developed a dental paste made of oxen hooves, myrrh, eggshells, pumice, and water. The Chinese are believed to have applied ground fish bones to their teeth. Arabians in the Middle Ages tried using fine sand.

I thought you would appreciate knowing the truth. Now go back and read the poem again in the light of this new information. I predict that you will never think of it in the same way again.

Still, as some wag once said, halitosis is better than no breath at all.

In other news, if your nose runs and your feet smell, you're built upside-down.


  1. That was an interesting but long way to get to my Dad's favourite dad joke.
    Toothpaste seems preferable to the other concoctions

    1. kylie, it's not clear to me whether your Dad/favourite dad joke was the one about halitosis or the one about if your nose runs. These distinctions are very important because someone, somewhere, is keeping track of all the dad jokes.

    2. nose runs/ feet small.
      The other favourite is "What happened to the cow on the railway track?" Dis-arsed her

  2. I still read an ode to love. Sometimes we don't have to be literal.

    1. Emma, true, but sometimes we do. The trick is in knowing when to do which.


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