The Eternal Coatman's Snicker . . .
Christopher Buckley has written a rather emotional review of Mortality, the final words left us by Christopher Hitchens ("Staying Power," New York Times, August 30, 2012), and he quotes these lines from the book:
The novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don't so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it's time to be on my way. No, it's the snickering that gets me down.That's a fine example of easy erudition on the part of Hitchens, though I'm not quite sure what the snickering might refer to in this passage, though I think that I might understand it in T.S. Eliot's original poem. Speaking of poetry, Buckley informs us that Hitchens also quoted some verses from William Cory's translation of a poem on mortality by Callimachus:
They told me, Heraclitus; they told me you were dead.We step into this stream of life only once, so far as I know, and if we do step in again, it's not the same stream. Nor is Heraclitus even the same Heraclitus. Hitchens is gone forever as well, and the eternal coatman now waits on us to finish our swim.
They brought me bitter news to hear, and bitter tears to shed.
I wept when I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.