The Art of "Quotemanship" and "Misquotemanship"

Quoting people accurately is really hard — and you can quote me on that.

Irish Press Is Alert: Don’t Mess with Yeats


Vice President Joe Biden has a penchant for quoting–or trying to–Irish poet W.B. Yeats (shown at right).
On Monday, September 17, he spoke on the phone with a few Iowa supporters while campaigning in that state.
Here’s what he said to Hal Goldstein, according to

“[W]hat you ought to do is, this is, there’s awful lot in transition. There’s a great line from the Irish poet Yeats writing about his Ireland back in 1916, its called Easter Sunday 1916. And there’s a line in that poem that better describes, in my view, where we are today in the world than the state of his Ireland in 1916. It was after the first rising, the first attempt to rise up against the British in the 20th century and he said: ‘All’s changed, changed utterly. Terrible beauty has been born.’

Theblaze was unfazed.
The reaction was different at the IrishCentral web site, which pounced earlier today.
For one thing, Biden got the title of the poem wrong. It’s Easter 1916.
For another thing, Biden’s version of Yeats’ line went this way:

“All’s changed, changed utterly.
Terrible beauty has been born.”

The actual last line is “A terrible beauty is born.”

Although the writing is hard to read, here’s a snip below of the two lines from the manuscript of the poem, from the Web site of the National Library of Ireland.

An occasional Yeats reference has been known to roll from the tongue of the vice president. And it’s not always wrong. He quoted from from Yeats’ A Woman Young and Old
while speaking at a convention of the National Association of Police Organizations in Manalapan, Florida, on July 23, 2012. His presentation came three days after the movie-theater killings in Aurora, Colorado. The somber tone matched this couplet from Yeats:
“Pray I will sing and sing I must
And yet I weep–”
These words, he quoted accurately.
He used the same phrase a month and a half later during a moving speech in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2012.
He didn’t quite nail it, but he was close. On that occasion, he switched a conjunction and according to this transcript said, “But yet I weep.”
He got eleven out of twelve words right. Not bad.
And yet, Yeats lovers weep.

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