You know, as much as I love learning new things, and even discovering that what I thought I knew was wrong or too simplistic, there are times when I find myself guiltily wishing the world would just let me keep my old mumpsimus. A minute ago I ran across a line of Eliot quoted as “Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow,” and I thought smugly “Ha, some sort of weird typo; it’s ‘uti chelidon.'” I got down my good old Complete Poems and Plays to make sure, and yes, it had “Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow.” But could I leave it at that? No, I had to google it, and here’s what I discovered, to my horror (The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose, p. 50):

Line 428 of the Boni and Liveright edition reads, “Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow.” The text reads the same in every early printing: in the Dial, in the Criterion, in the 1923 Hogarth, and in the 1925 Faber edition of Poems, 1909–1925. It also reads that way in the 1932 American edition of Poems, 1909–1925. Only in 1936, in Collected Poems, 1909–1935, does the text suddenly undergo a change, with the first words now reading: “Quando fiam uti chelidon.” But the authority of that edition is deeply suspect, as we have already seen. Moreover, there can be no doubt whatever about which version of this passage Eliot had in mind when he wrote the poem: in both his autograph fair copy of part V and the typescript fair copy of it which he prepared for Ezra Pound while he was in Paris in early 1922, Eliot unequivocally wrote and typed “ceu chelidon,” not “uti chelidon” (see TWL:AF, 80–81, 88–89).

I imagine this is old news to Eliot fans, but it came like a thunderclap to me. Sure, ceu and ut(i) are interchangeable in the context (‘When shall I become like the swallow,’ a famous quote from the last stanza of the Pervigilium Veneris), but I learned it as “uti” and that’s how I have it in head and heart: QUANdo FI(am) uTI cheLIdon? No, I’ll not change my old uti for your new ceu.


  1. Have you been stressing the second syllable of “uti”? It would be “Uti”. (Or, if your capitals indicate length, it should be “QUANDO”…)

  2. The -i in uti is long and therefore stressed in the meter of the song.

  3. Since the text of the PV is not in doubt (or is it?), what we have here is a case of an author misquoting deliberately, whether knowingly or in ignorance we don’t know, and an officious editor fixing it for him. So you are in fact being asked to change your millennia-old sumpsimus for Mr. Eliot’s modernist mumpsimus.
    My favorite bit of elision is from Virgil:
    Monstr’ ‘orrend’, inform’, ingens, cui lumen ademptum (Aeneid III:658)

  4. an author misquoting deliberately, whether knowingly or in ignorance we don’t know
    This is an interesting combination. So you are saying that Eliot (possibly) deliberately misquoted this line in ignorance? This is certainly not a contradiction, but what kind of ignorance do you think would lead him to deliberately misquote here? Just curious.

  5. Petrus Augustinus says

    Okay, so which one is right? According to this digging of yours, ceu was what he intended. But in my book it’s also uti. So I’m at a loss..it’d be great to know.

  6. Your Eliot collection, like mine, presumably reflects the post-1935 situation.

  7. I quite liked old Toilets when we read him at school, but was disappointed when we learnt that some of his best lines were written by Lancelot Andrewes hundreds of years earlier. Nobody’s perfect.

  8. Bathrobe, I should have said that Eliot deliberately wrote ceu (the evidence of the fair copies establishes that), whether or not he knew that it was a misquotation. In the former case, it would be a deliberate misquotation. If not, it would not have been, merely a deliberate utterance that was in fact a misquotation.

  9. And another thing: how did Eliot pronounce ceu? Being “an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics,” he presumably used the unreformed pronunciation of Latin and said something like “syoo” (/syu/), but one would have to listen to a recording of him reading the last part of the poem, if such exists.

  10. I have this recording of Eliot reading it:
    He says “uti”.

  11. That’s right. You can hear it (and the whole thing) here:

  12. marie-lucie says

    I studied Latin for 9 years (not much poetry though) and don’t remember coming across “ceu”. “Seu”, yes, and I thought that was it here but sounded strange (until better Latinists set me right).

  13. I reckon he couldn’t figure out how to pronounce ceu and he changed it to uti right before the broadcast.

  14. Ha! Makes sense to me.

  15. As I recall the manuscript tradition of the PV is kind of a mess, perhaps owing to its popularity.
    This looks like a classic case of “lectio difficilior potior” – both words are present in the MSS versions, but of the two, “ceu” is more likely to be correct, because it’s rarer. “Uti” would have been someone’s gloss, or gloss/substitution. You’d have to pull up the ap. crit., though.
    Depending on the editor, a published Latin text of the poem could say either one.

  16. Jim again says

    “ceu” is two short syllables, by the way. I dunno how these medieval stress meters worked, I’m just a classicist.

  17. Jim again again says

    …but here the second syllable would be lengthened by position, as “chelidon” begins with two consonants to the Latin mind (???). So both “uti” and “ceu” would be short-long, or unstressed-stressed.

  18. Bill Walderman says

    ‘”chelidon” begins with two consonants to the Latin mind’
    Isn’t ch treated as a single consonant in Latin prosody–the Latin transcription of the Greek aspirated (or fricative by the time of PV) unvoiced guttural consonant represented by the letter chi? Ch doesn’t “make position”–when preceded by a short vowel it doesn’t make the preceding syllable long (or “heavy”).
    And eu in ceu is a diphthong, not two vowels.
    According to the textual notes in the Loeb edition (Catullus, Tibullus and the PV in the 1988 revision by George Goold), the manuscripts actually have the more common but in this context unmetrical ut: uti is a conjecture by a 17th century editor. No mention of ceu.

  19. Bill Walderman says

    So perhaps Eliot originally wrote ceu, misquoting from memory, and then later changed it to uti when he discovered what was in the text of the PV.

  20. Yes, that sounds likely. And thanks for the report on the editorial/MS history.

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