July 2, 2015

Of all sad words of tongue or pen – which are the saddest?


“Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” 
       John Greenleaf Whittier
       American poet and anti-slavery activist
       The oft-quoted lines from his poem
“Maud Muller” (1856) 
       Whittier’s “Maud Muller” tells the story of a poor farm maid and a wealthy judge who saw each other in passing when they were young. Maud thinks it would be nice to be married to a rich, high-society man like the judge. The judge thinks it would be nice to be married to a beautiful farm girl like Maud and lead the pastoral life of a farmer. But, because of the class-based social conventions of the time, neither one acts on their mutual attraction. They simply pass each other by. Later in life, when they are both stuck in unfulfilling marriages, they think sadly about the life they might have had together. The final lines of the poem note that many people have such regrets, saying:      
      “God pity them both! and pity us all,

       Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;   
       For of all sad words of tongue or pen, 
       The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’ 
       Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies 
       Deeply buried from human eyes;   
       And, in the hereafter, angels may 
       Roll the stone from its grave away!”


“Of all cold words of tongue or pen
The worst are these: ‘I knew him when – ’”
      Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943)
       American writer best known for
his humorous poems
       From a poem in his book Prophets in Their Own Country (1927)


“Of all sad words of lip or pen
The worst are these, ‘I’ve flunked again.’” 
       Parody poem published in the University of Michigan’s Chronicle magazine in 1883


“The Moral is that gardeners pine
Whene’er no pods adorn the vine.
Of all sad words experience gleans
The saddest are: ‘It might have beans.’” 
       Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873-1904)
       American humorist and poet.
       From his book
Grimm Tales Made Gay (1902)


“Of all sad words that I've ever seen.
The saddest are ‘Three putts to the green.’” 
       Poem published in
The American Golfer magazine in 1910 (p. 153)


“Of all sad words asked married men
The saddest are these: Where have you been?” 
       Letter to the editor of Time Magazine, April 25, 1960


“Of all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, Michael Bay is making another ‘Transformers’ movie.”
       Cody Clark 
       Film critic
       In one of his reviews published in the Provo, Utah Daily Herald

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