… lines of poetry.

Joe Biden is a fine vice-president; UD‘s glad to have him. She enjoyed listening to him just now, while she fixed evening tea (Creme de la Earl Grey from TeaLuxe. A generous pinch of it between my first two fingers and my thumb. Dropped into a scalded bright red teapot and flooded with just-boiling water.), addressing military people at an inaugural ball.

In honoring the families of the deployed, he quoted the line They also serve who only stand and wait. He attributed the line to Keats (even worse, he said his wife attributes the line to Keats), but it is from Milton.

318. On His Blindness

WHEN I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’re Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

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6 Responses to “They also serve who misattribute…”

  1. Susan Says:

    He must have done this twice, because the one I heard, he got it right! Maybe Dr. Biden corrected him between appearances?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Susan: Hm! I didn’t listen past that first appearance – I’ll check and see if she (or someone) corrected him…

  3. University Diaries » No fair. She was teaching a course in…. Says:

    […] happens to those of us who teach aesthetics? Three of our students gather round us and recite Keats (Milton?) as we […]

  4. Crimson05er Says:

    “They also serve who only stand and waite.”

    My father, who was very fond of Milton, would always quote this line if he encountered acquaintances while out shopping with my mother. She’d deposit packages or items to purchase with him and disappear back into clothing racks or another store, and he’d elevate the great husband-ly duty of guarding purchases with a bit of 17th century verse.

    In grad school I’ve taken to nonchalantly deploying the line when forced to wait for extended periods outside faculty offices when previous meetings have egregiously run over into my scheduled appointments.

    I once also quoted this from PL (as best I could remember) to describe an aged faculty member fond of shredding graduate students’ dreams:
    “Whose snowie ridge the roving Tartar bounds,
    Dislodging from a Region scarce of prey
    To gorge the flesh of Lambs or yeanling Kids”

    There’s a reason my department looks at me funny.

  5. Green Hornist Says:

    He did it again today, at what was otherwise a magnificent speech honoring the slain MIT officer. Odd that he got the attribution right in 2010 at a VFW speech, then blew it twince in 2013. At any rate he seems to like the poem, although I am not at all sure what the line means. My Milton professor suggested it could mean wait as in wait on tables, serve as a waiter. Time now to scrutinize Jill’s credentials if in fact she fed him the line–or maybe even “corrected” him when he (or his speechwriter) said Milton in 2010. She as a professional would be far more culpable on this one. BTW, I agree with your overall assessment of JB. This “gaffe” is of a higher order 🙂

  6. University Diaries » UD thanks “Green Hornist,” a reader, for pointing out that Vice President Biden… Says:

    […] In this post, UD pointed out that the source of this line, about as unKeatsian a line as I can think of, is John Milton: […]

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