Thursday, September 13, 2012

hung on like grim death

I stumbled upon a terrific poem by Theodore Roethke while looking around the Internet for the etymology of this idiom, My Papa's Waltz (copyrighted in 1942); his version is, "But I hung on like death."  Click <here> for a link to the full poem, posted with permission on the Poetry Foundation's website.

Bryan and Mieder's 2005 A Dictionary of Anglo-American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases found in Literary Sources from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries lists the earliest literary reference from Bret Harte, in his 1884 Tales of the Argonauts: On the Frontier (available on Project Gutenberg), "Well, I hung on like grim death."

Various online student study guides note Shakespeare uses the adjective "grim" with a different meaning in his Taming of the Shrew, Induction, Scene 1 (pasted in from MIT's Shakespeare website), in "Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image" - for comedic rather than tragic effect:

What's here? one dead, or drunk? See, doth he breathe?

Second Huntsman
He breathes, my lord. Were he not warm'd with ale,
This were a bed but cold to sleep so soundly.

O monstrous beast! how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting!