Wit (2001 TV Movie)
E.M. Ashford: Do you think that the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail? The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with Death calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life death and eternal life. In the edition you choose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation.
E.M. Ashford: And Death, Capital D, shall be no more, semi-colon. Death, Capital D comma, thou shalt die, exclamation mark!
E.M. Ashford: If you go in for this sort of thing I suggest you take up Shakespeare.
E.M. Ashford: Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript of 1610, not for sentimental reasons I assure you, but because Helen Gardner is a scholar.
E.M. Ashford: It reads, "And death shall be no more" comma "death, thou shalt die." Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting.
E.M. Ashford: Very simple, really. With the original punctuation restored Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma. A pause.
E.M. Ashford: In this way, the uncompromising way one learns something from the poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death, soul, God, past present. Not insuperable barriers. Not semi-colons. Just a comma.
E.M. Ashford: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Jason Posner: [conducting a medical history check] Are you having sexual relations?
Vivian Bearing: Not at the moment, no.
E.M. Ashford: While reading The Runaway Bunny: A little allegory of the soul. No matter where it hides. God will find it.
Vivian Bearing: One thing that can be said for an eight-month course of cancer treatment: it is highly educational. I am learning to suffer.
Vivian Bearing: This is my play's last scene Here... Heavens appoint my pilgrimage's last mile And my race Idly, yet quickly run Hath this last pace My span's last inch My minute's last point And gluttonous death Will instantly unjoint my body and soul" John Donne... I've always particularly liked that poem. In the abstract. Now I find the image of my minute's last point, a little too, shall we say... pointed. I don't mean to complain but I am becoming very sick. Very sick. Ultimately sick, as it were. In everything I have done, I have been steadfast. Resolute. Some would say in the extreme. Now, as you can see, I am distinguishing myself in illness. I have survived eight treatments of Hexamethophosphacil and Vinplatin at the full dose, ladies and gentlemen. I have broken the record. I have become something of a celebrity. Kelekian and Jason are simply delighted. I think, they see celebrity status for themselves upon the appearance of the journal article, they will no doubt write about me. But I flatter myself. The article will not be about me, it will be about my ovaries. It will, be about my peritoneal cavity. Which, despite their best intentions, is now crawling with cancer. What we have come to think of as me is, in fact, just the specimen jar. Just the dust jacket. Just the white piece of paper... that bears the little black marks... My next line is supposed to be something like this: "It is such a relief to get back to my room after those infernal tests." This is hardly true. It would be a relief to be a cheerleader on her way to Daytona Beach for spring break. To get back to my room after those infernal tests is just the next thing that happens.
Vivian Bearing: I trust this will have a soporific effect.
Susie Monahan: I don't know about that, but it sure does make you sleepy.
Vivian Bearing: [laughing]
Susie Monahan: What's so funny? What? What?
Vivian Bearing: [laughing] Soporific means "makes you sleepy".
E.M. Ashford: You take this too lightly. This is metaphysical poetry, not the modern novel. The standards of scholarship and critical reading which one would apply to any other text are simply insufficient. The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful.