Saturday, February 09, 2019

'Watching the Shied Core'

Before reading The Whitsun Weddings years ago I was unaware shy can be used as a verb. When intransitive: “to throw a missile, esp. carelessly or by a jerk.” And when transitive: “to fling, throw, jerk, toss.” All the sources cited by the OED appear to be English, so perhaps the word has never successfully immigrated to the U.S. The etymology offered by the dictionary is unapologetically honest: “Of obscure origin.” It also seems stuck in time (Bentham, De Quincey, Thackeray), with the most recent citation dating from 1886. It took Larkin to salvage shy in “As Bad as a Mile”:

“Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

“Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.”

Larkin exceeds Beckett’s overused “fail better.” Like original sin, failure is built into human action. It’s a familiar Larkin theme, one he refutes by composing so concisely clever a poem out of such unpromising material – throwing refuse at the waste basket, something we do every day. He finished writing “As Bad as a Mile” on this date, Feb. 9, in 1960.

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