Friday, February 1, 2013

Food Digested Takes Another Name

A year or so ago, someone ripped off a bunch of 50 Books' reviews. We were angry--livid, in fact--but, unfortunately, couldn't find the words to express our frustration in pentameter. Fast forward to this year, when I discovered John Donne's take on plagiarism, and Alexander Pope's reinterpretation. If only we'd known then what we know now...
But hee is worst, who (beggarly) doth chaw
Others wits fruits, and in his ravenous maw
Rankly digested, doth those things out-spue,
As his owne things; 'and they are his owne, 'tis true,
For if one eate my meate, though it be knowne
The meate was mine, th'excrement is his owne.
- John Donne, Satire 2
Pope's take is similar, but, while Donne comes right out and says that plagiarists produce excrement, Pope makes the reader complicit by using words with sounds that can't help but conjure a cruder word, one would never be found in 18th-century poetry...
Wretched, indeed! but far more wretched yet
Is he who makes his meal on others’ wit:
’T is changed, no doubt, from what it was before;
His rank digestion makes it wit no more:
Sense pass’d thro’ him no longer is the same;
For food digested takes another name.
- Alexander Pope, The Second Satire of Dr Donne
Get it?

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