Friday, May 05, 2006

The love song of Judge Leonie Brinkema

Zacarias Moussaoui, the Mr Bean of Al-Quaeda, has been sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole. Judge Leonie Brinkema told Moussaoui: "You came here to be a martyr in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet TS Eliot, instead you will die with a whimper."

This is an interesting choice of words. Not the quotation itself - that's pretty obvious. It's the linguistic furniture that's peculiar. She could simply have said that Moussaoui would end, not with a bang, but a whimper. Many people know the expression, even if they don't know where it comes from. Even those who didn't know the phrase beforehand must surely be able to understand what she's getting at. Not bang - whimper. Capisce?

But Judge Leonie, being a fine, upstanding woman, did what all good quoters should do, and attributed her reference. In case anybody might think that Judge Brinkema has literary talents that match her jurisprudential aptitudes, she notes that it's a line by Eliot.

Hang on, though - what if someone out there doesn't know who TS Eliot is? Better flag up the fact that it's "the poet TS Eliot" (rather than the actuary or the welder). Presumably, then, this is for the benefit of people who hadn't heard of TS Eliot before - otherwise the job title would be extraneous. And, if this is the first time they've heard of the poet TS Eliot, they can't have any idea whether he's a good, bad or could-do-better versifier. And why leave it there? Why not remind them that it's from 'The Hollow Men'? Tell them the year it was written, and who the publisher was? Give a brief summary of ol' Tom's works and attempt to define his place within the Modernist pantheon? With specific reference to Ezra bloody Pound?

And, in any case, what effect does all this have? If a judge alerts a criminal to the fact that his fate can be encapsulated in a few words from a poet, does this make him feel better or worse? What will the 9/11 relatives think? "I really wanted to see the bastard fry, but at least his sentence has been endorsed by a Nobel Prize-winning poet." I have this image of crims trundling into Shawshank, getting the bug powder and the hosing down, the Bible talk from the governor, and all the while whispering to each other:

"Who d'ya get?"
"I got the poet Walt Whitman."
"That faggot! I got the poet John Milton. What about you, fatso?"
"Oh, I got the poet Dylan Thomas."
"Yeah? What line?"
"Something about not goin' gentle into no good night."
"Uh-oh. Been nice knowin' ya, fatso."


Ah, what the hell? I bet she Googled it.

6 comments:

Robert Frost said...

Of course, a much better poet has expressed the sentiment more succintly in Fire and Ice:

http://www.bartleby.com/155/2.html

Billy said...

But what poem or poet would you like in the judges summing up were you ever convicted of a major crime?

I'd go for some Rimbaud. Or Emily Dickinson.

tom l said...

a little something from Kaavya Viswanathan would have been nice :}

Tim Footman said...

I'd tussle with you over Frost's superiority as a poet; but at least he stayed American, and didn't jump ship like TSE did. Quoting someone who didn't want to be American might be regarded as unpatriotic.

Billy - smart move. Quote nutters and you sound like one. There's a diminished responsibility plea on a plate.

Pigeon - don't you think the guy had enough on his plate without a plagiarism suit? Although I was impressed by the idea that this Kaavya woman ripped off Rushdie as well. Not only does she have to return her advance, but there's a fatwa in the mail. Nice.

OK, my schtick would be from 'The Latest Decalogue' by Arthur Hugh Clough.

"Thou shalt not kill: but needs't not strive
Officiously to keep alive."

treespotter said...

i like frost, mine would his Secrets.
i can't really imagine the judge saying that though, would be a mistrial.

tom l said...

i thought it was really gross to hear a judge gloating over the death of some sick bastard. a poet could sue for 'wrongful regurgitation'