Bewray the Repricon.

Last year I quoted (via MacDiarmid) a line attributed to T.S. Eliot, “Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze,” and added that I had no idea where he wrote it, if in fact he did. John Cowan just added a comment to that thread saying he had found via Google Books this snippet from p. 16 of James Devaney’s 1952 Poetry in Our Time: A Review of Contemporary Values:

From the beginning the young poets of modernism put cleverness first. When Spender talks of “the narcine torpesce”, or when Eliot writes the line Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze, we know that he is only striking an attitude […]

But MacDiarmid and Devaney seem to be the only people who are aware of this alleged line of alleged poetry, and now that I am reminded of it, I thought I’d give it its own post and see if any of my readership might know anything about it. I should add that bewray means ‘expose, betray,’ naze is ‘promontory, headland,’ the OED knows out-stent only as a rare Scots adjective meaning ‘outstretched,’ and it is entirely unaware of any such word as repricon.


  1. Homer Mershon says

    My immediate reaction was a play on the following:

    Lewis Carroll
    (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought —
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And, as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    “And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
    He chortled in his joy.

    `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  2. I think we’re all familiar with “Jabberwocky,” but what connection do you see? The meter is different, and the words (with the possible exception of “repricon”) are not invented.

  3. marie-lucie says

    I too thought of Jabberwocky. The words in the other poem may not be invented, but they are so unusual that they give that same impression of the sounds being more important than the sense, “filling my head with ideas, only I don’t know what they are!”

  4. Huh. OK, then, I guess there’s a perceptible connection.

  5. I immediately thought of Jabberwocky also. Bewray so similar to beware. “Bewray the [nonsense-sounding word]” automatically calling to mind “Beware the Jabberwock”. With this, interpret all unfamiliar words as invented nonsense rather than assuming they are hitherto unencoutered real English words.

    Maybe this is a weaker connection but “outstent the naze” seems like it could be an echo of “outgrabe” (or maybe vice versa if we are talking about literal echos).

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I also thought of Jabberwocky, and I agree with Will about “outstent the naze”.

  7. marie-lucie says

    Bewray the Repricon sounds like “Beware the Leprechaun”.

  8. I too thought of Jabberwocky and Beware the Jabberwock, my son.

    When I was about three, I went for a holiday at Walton on the Naze. Never been back.

  9. Well, I’m clearly out of step with popular opinion, not for the first time.

  10. I would never have thought of “Jabberwocky”, primarily because of the meter, I think.

  11. I am not alone!

  12. After a few minutes of messing around on google books, I was able to put together all of page 16 from James Devaney’s book. Here it is:

    Yet we can have more faith in the genius of an independent poet than in all the group-thinking of all the smart sets in literature. The fact that the vast volume of student verse or whatever we may cal it that surged in after Eliot was wholly for the “new look” did not prove it right. A thousand nothings still make it nothing. It reigned, but (why beat about the bush?) it was generally worthless. Having no impelling creative force of their own, they followed a pattern set down for them; but poetry is much more than manner or than mannerism. “Novelty, audacity, fertility of image are the strong-points, the presiding demon, of contemporary verse”, wrote C. Day Lewis (The Poetic Image, 1947).

    Novelty and audacity can be very attractive and they can be substituted for poetry, but if a man has no poetry in him all the paraphernalia of the poet’s workshop will not produce it for him. From the beginning the young poets of modernism put cleverness first. When Spender talks of “the narcine torpesce”, or when Eliot writes the line “Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze,” we know that he is only striking an attitude. The new verse was full of these things, often elaborate, and having no meaning except as stunts. If affectation in speech is obviously bad, why should it be a merit in literary style? And the same writers professed to be all for the common speech of conversation in poetry. When Eliot begins a poem with the one-word line
    he gives something away, quite as much as the Pope line
          Resound, ye hills, resound my mournful strain!
    gives something away. Yet Hugh Ross Williamson admires this “discovery of a word which serves as a complete line,” and various young modernists searched the lexicon to write a similar one-word line. This preoccupation with mere mechanics was typical. What else had they?

    So in our day critical writing about poetry has taken a strange and revolutionary turn. Modernists even differentiate between the aesthetic and the poetic, or at least they consider the aesthetic to be concerned only with minor verse…

  13. Thanks very much for your hard work! I’ve taken the liberty of formatting it for easier reading.

  14. One more curiosity from Google books: Roy MacGregor-Hastie’s essay “The Double-Crossing of Mr. Eliot: Why has poetry become a pastime for the intellectual elite?”, appearing in some unidentified 1959 issue of Books and Bookmen, also reproduces the Eliot quote. He had evidently been reading Devaney’s book, as he reproduces both the Lewis quote and mentions “polyphiloprogenitive.”

    Here’s a snippet of the article:

    [Eliot] came out with bits of gibberish himself. But he was cleverer than Pound. His doggerel was smart, had obviously needed an hour or two’s hard work with the dictionaries before final polishing. Here’s a bit of Eliot:

    “Bewray the repricon, outstent the naze.”

    Dr. Edith Sitwell, always quick to spot a winner, comments: “With Eliot we are restored to a world of living poetry.” Suddenly everybody was at it. Away with emotion and uncommonsense. As Day Lewis put it: “Novelty, audacity, fertility of image are the strong points, the presiding demon of contemporary verse.” Here’s another bit of audacious Eliot:


    How they welcomed it….

    It would not surprise me if Devaney, having read MacDiarmid’s poem, simply assumed “Bewray the repricon…” was a true Eliot quote. MacGregor-Hastie read Devaney and assumed the quote was genuine, and the rest is history.

  15. Oh ho ho! I’ll bet you’re right. Well found, and well reasoned.

  16. In double dactyls, of course, the one-word line is an outright requirement. If any of you don’t know what a double dactyl is, Roger L. Robison will tell you:

    Long-short-short, long-short-short
    Dactyls in dimeter,
    Verse form with choriambs
    (Masculine rhyme):

    One sentence (two stanzas)
    Challenges poets who
    Don’t have the time.

  17. ‘Extend the nose’ for ‘outstent the naze‘?

    T.S. Eliot—it’s a Scottish name— (MacDiarmid)

    Still unawray of what the riddle green men might be.

  18. I can’t find any use of repricon except for one in inverted commas in a Brazilian poem. Repriser is to mend by darning, in French, and un œuf à reprise is one of those mushroom-shaped wooden blocks that help spread out a sock for darning. It’s still JOLLY peculiar that MacDiamid, who had written to Eliot about the poem, had it praised by Eliot and was in contact with him, would have attributed a made-up line to Eliot and then put it right next to one by Spender that wasn’t made-up.

  19. Yes, the whole thing is very peculiar. Could Eliot have made up the line as a joke or proof of concept and quoted it to MacD viva voce but never published it?

  20. “Lord, how we laughed!” I s’pose, but I’d still say it was cheating.

  21. Is the Spender line real, though? It appears only in the same places as the Eliot, as far as I can discover.

  22. The plot thickens!

  23. Anyone else suspect Eliot’s subjunctiveor oneiric double came to McD in a Cencrastic supposition or vision and said “naze”? Cencrastus being the variety serpent.

    Complete Poems (2000) (searchable on p. 94 (A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle):

    T. S. Eliot – it’s a Scottish name –
    Afore he wrote ‘The Waste Land’ s’ud ha’e come
    To Scotland here. He wad ha’e written
    A better poem syne…

    p. 256 (To Circumjack Cencrastus)

    I ha’ena seen you haill, Cencrastus, and never may
    But ken fu’ weel the way you’re movin’,
    Coil upon coil frae ooter dark to licht
    And ev’n what’s clear changes its appearance
    Frae minute to minute as the noise o’horns
    Twixt Eliot’s Waste Land and Day’s Parlement o’ Bees.

    No’ in appearance only but in fact
    Deeper than ony man or Time can faddom.
    For ae thocht differs sae muckle frae the neist
    (Machinery’s effect on life’s a minor case),
    A’ ither differences – hedgehogs frae lilies –
    Are nocht to it’s. Yet centuries o’ sic thochts
    Through life and a’ the arts and sciences strewn
    Whiles kyth aefauld in you.

    Earth’s rinning’ doon like a clock;
    A’ its changes mak’ for the final
    State o’ No Change? In the mighty field
    Owre which the tide is fleetin’
    To leave bare a’ meanin’ at last
    Will some coonter-force suddenly appear?
    There’s nae sign o’t yet, and what if it does
    Tellin’ a similar story
    In anither language and style?
    I see your coils twined to a point
    Faur ayont Ophiuchus (as on Monadh nan Eun
    And by mony a green bealach I see
    The tragic struggle betwixt
    Demoniacal pooers o’ beauty
    On the a’e hand and on the ither
    Truths, quiet and salutary,
    Shinin’ frae afaur); and a’thing else
    A grey skin you’ve cast, Cencrastus,
    Loupin’ there oot o’hule; and cry ‘Thocht’
    Tho’ I ken that nae thocht’ll survive
    – Nocht at last but a quality o’ mind
    Committed to nae belief;
    No’ Thocht, but a poo’er to think,
    And ‘ud fain stake that in a Scottish form
                    In the endless hazard.
    A poo’er to think, no’ to be led astray,
    Eident and lintwise and caulder than ice
    Takin’ a’ that you can frae the sun
    And gi’en nocht in return, your coils are no’
    Mair numerous than the plies o’ my brain.
    Your scepticism gangs nae deeper.
    A single movement shows that Licht
    Flows frae nae central source in Heaven
    But is a product o’ ilka star itsel’.
    Syne in a single lirk you haud
    Mair darkness than midnight or men’s herts.

  24. Again, it seems “the narcine torpesce” appears only in MacDiarmid’s poem, Devaney’s book and MacGregor-Hastie’s essay.

    I don’t see why it would be so peculiar to think that MacDiarmid was simply making some sort of friendly parody of his fellow epeolator-poets’ notoriously difficult language. He calls his own style “Ecclefechan Gongorism,” after all.

  25. It’s certainly less peculiar if the Spender line is also made-up. i was just too lazy to check that. But isn’t there a difference between difficult language and agglomerations of obscure words? I don’t think of Eliot as being “difficult” in the same way as Continental philosophy, which is intentionally hard to unravel.

  26. It’s not peculiar at all; it just took a while to come up with the idea, which makes perfect sense of the situation.

  27. My last comment sounds rather snippy upon re-reading. Sorry about that.

  28. “the narcine torpesce” sounds unsettlingly as though it might mean something. Narcine is a genus of electric rays – also known as torpedo-fish. And “torpesce” sounds like the present tense of the verb whose present participle is “torpescent” – meaning “lying around inert, insensitive, numb, doing nothing”, from which we get “torpid” and, bizarrely, “torpedo”, which before it was a fast-moving explosive weapon was solely the fish, which not only lay around doing nothing but, if you annoyed it, would make you yourself inert, insensitive and numb, via a powerful electric shock.

    Torpescing, in other words, is just what a Narcine spends most of its life doing.

  29. I have discovered the following entry on p. 498 of Diccionario gallego-castellano by Marcial Valladares Núñez:

    REPRICON. Replicon, replicador, amigo de replicar.

    For what that’s worth.

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