“I taste self but at”

Some linguistic explorations get more puzzling the further I pursue them.  Today’s lesson was about the pattern NP look(s)/sound(s)/smell(s)/taste(s)/feel(s) ADJ and related patterns. The lesson started with look, with photos of actors in emoting in character. Sound was provided on the textbook’s CD, and I explained smell and taste with examples of food (both) and perfume (smell). I mentioned that we might say You smell beautiful to a loved one, but are unlikely to say You taste beautiful even then.

Except some people do. Google Ngrams shows You taste good/wonderful/salty/sweet/delicious/better, all of which emerged in the 1960s and 70s. You taste better, not surprisingly, leads to You taste better than, but Ngrams gives no result for You taste better than *. I am trying to think how I could end a sentence with those words: maybe Here is a list of things you taste better than.

Further, “I taste *_ADJ” returns I taste self/good/sweet/more/like/bad/such. Almost all of those deserve further exploration, but my eye was caught by I taste self. That isn’t grammatical in my book. Further, it spiked in the early 1940s, but obviously isn’t war-related. That lead to the four words I taste self but (even worse in my book) and the five words I taste self but at (whaaaat?). Ngrams is restricted to five words, so I searched generally online, and a well-known search engine suggested I taste myself but at one tankard, which was beginning to look like an actual sentence.

But the quotation is actually I taste self but at one tankard, in fact Searching nature I taste self but at one tankard, that of my own being. So what does that actually mean? The author was Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English Jesuit priest and poet who lived from 1844 to 1889. It is from a work called Comments on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. I can’t find the whole work online, but I found a book on philosophy which quotes the surrounding paragraph (see below), which doesn’t make the whole thing any clearer. Searching for “Hopkins Loyola” takes me the Wikipedia page about the lacrosse rivalry between Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University Maryland.

So why did that quotation spike in the early 1940s? His Poems were published in 1918. I can only assume that his Comments were published later, but why then? It’s not on Wikisource or Bartleby, and two websites devoted to him don’t mention that work at all.

At 11.15 pm, I’m going to stop researching for the night.

(next morning) I’m none the wiser. Here’s the full paragraph for your enlightenment or bafflement.

When I consider my self being, my consciousness and my feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of I and me above and in all things, which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or camphor, and is incommunicable by any means to another man (as when I was a child I used to ask myself: What must it be to be someone else?). Nothing else in nature comes near this unspeakable stress of pitch, distinctiveness, and selving, this selfbeing of my own. Nothing explains or resembles it, except so far as this, that other men to themselves have the same feeling. But this only multiplies the phenomena to be explained so far as the cases are like and do resemble. But to me there is no resemblance: searching nature I taste self but at one tankard, that of my own being. The development, refinement, condensation of nothing shews any sign of being able to match this to me or give me another taste of it, a taste even resembling it.

The only paraphrase I can make of the last two sentence is:

I find “myself” only in my own being. Nothing else will do it.

I find “myself” only in my own being sounds tautological to me. Where is he/are we going to find “self”?

So, what does this mean, and why did it spike in the early 1940s? Many sources online illustrate it with a picture of a tankard of ale, but I don’t think that’s what he’s talking about. (Most quotations online omit the italics, which makes the line harder to understand.)

(Monty Python’s Philosophers’ Song springs to mind.)

(This is first time I have tagged philosophy or Gerard Manley Hopkins, which is not surprising, but also Monty Python, which is.)


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