As Years Come In and Years Go Out, I Totter Toward the Tomb

Dorothy L. Sayers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Gossip mongers are obsessed with identifying and publicizing the latest carnal pairings of celebrities. The acclaimed mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers composed a short poem expressing disinterest in this subject, and I have seen two distinct versions of her humorous four lines. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a letter written by Dorothy L. Sayers in 1953. She was responding to John Betjeman who inquired about the poem. Sayers recognized that different versions were circulating, and she presented the following text as genuine: 1

As years come in and years go out
I totter toward the tomb,
Still caring less and less about
Who goes to bed with whom.

Sayers highlighted the rhyme between the first and third lines, and said that the “alliteration in the second line lends, I feel, a kind of rickety dignity to the whole”. The third and fourth lines are spoken together without a pause; referred to as enjambment in poetry. Sayers commented that the rhyme and flow “seem to usher in the final pronouncement with a more breathless solemnity.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading As Years Come In and Years Go Out, I Totter Toward the Tomb

Notes:

  1. 2000 Copyright, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: Volume Four: 1951-1957: In the Midst of Life by Dorothy L. Sayers (Dorothy Leigh Sayers), Chosen and Edited by Barbara Reynolds, Letter from Dorothy L. Sayers to John Betjeman, Letter dated February 2, 1953, Quote Page 80, Published by The Dorothy L. Sayers Society, Carole Green Publishing, Cambridge, England. (Verified with scans from Wheaton College, Buswell Library)

I Always Have a Quotation for Everything—It Saves Original Thinking

Creator: Dorothy L. Sayers, prominent English mystery writer, playwright, and poet

Context: Sayers published the crime novel “Have His Carcase” in 1932. The quotation was spoken by Lord Peter Wimsey while he was conversing with Harriet Vane. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

“There’s something in that. But I’ll have to get a decent frock if there is such a thing in Wilvercombe.”

“Well, get a wine-coloured one, then. I’ve always wanted to see you in wine-colour. It suits people with honey-coloured skin. (What an ugly word ‘skin’ is.) ‘Blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar’—I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking.”

Wimsey was quoting from the poem “The Sphinx” by Oscar Wilde which included the following lines: 2

Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and lay before your feet

Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar?

Some editions of “Have His Carcase” employed the incorrect spelling “menuphar” instead of “nenuphar” (water-lily).

Image Notes: Picture of Nymphaea Lotus (or Egyptian white water-lily) from Midhun Subhash via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1975 (Copyright 1932), Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers, Series: A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel, Quote Page 52 and 53, Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1909 Copyright, Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde, Poems, Poem: The Sphinx (1894), Start Page 287, Quote Page 297, The Nottingham Society, New York. (Google Books Full View) link