October 9, 2016
This only happens once in a lifetime.
Many of us have heard this phrase and we basically know what it means. Like the post I did last week, something that happens “once in a lifetime” is rare. However, a once-in-a-lifetime event is even rarer, if we go by the literal meaning.
Now, as I was looking out the history behind the term, I came across a tidbit of information that needed more digging. I was also reminded of the 1980’s band Talking Heads.
When Was the First Recorded Instance of ‘Once in a Lifetime’?
Believe it or not, my first stop was Dictionary.com. On the page for “once in a lifetime,” there was information pulled from the American Heritage Dictionary. The information was that the phrase was first recorded in 1854. However, there was no mention of the source of the phrase.
Next, I went to The Grammartist website. The post there generally went over how to use the phrase “once in a lifetime” with and without hyphens. “Once in a lifetime” is generally used as an adverb. “Once-in-a-lifetime” is used as an adjective.
Anyway, there was also a mention that the phrase “once in a lifetime” was first recorded in 1854. Again, there was no stated source.
Finally, after I looked for more specific terms, I was led to an entry about Coventry Patmore on Wikiquote. I wanted to take the information there with a grain of salt, but it ultimately led more to the right direction.
Who Was Coventry Patmore?
Coventry Patmore was born in Essex, England on July 23, 1823. His father was Peter George Patmore, an editor and novelist. Coventry Patmore and was educated by his father until he was sent to Paris at the age of 16.
Patmore was married three times, to: Emily Augusta Andrews (from 1847 until her death in 1860); Marrianne Caroline Byles (from 1864 until her death in 1880), and; Harriet Robson.
Coventry Patmore’s first book was entitled Poems. It was published in 1844.
Patmore published a collection of poems in 1853 entitled Tamerton Church Tower.
Patmore’s most famous work would have to be The Angel in the House. In 1854, he published the The Betrothal, the first volume of that collection of poems. The other three volumes were named The Espousals (1856), Faithful for Ever (1860), and The Victories of Love (1863).
The Angel in the house was of course based on Patmore’s first wife, Emily. He held up as the perfect Victorian wife. The collection of poems extolled the virtues of the Victorian woman. At the time, Women were expected to be submissive (to their husbands), demure, and pure (Melani).
This was supported from the tidbits of information I found from the British Library website. It has a collection of 12 images from select pages of the long, two-book poem. The attached summary talks about how Coventry Patmore wrote the poem about his courtship of and marriage to his wife, Emily. The poem was referenced in order to enforce the view of women as docile and devoted wives and mothers.
Where in the Collection of Poems Can One Find ‘Once in a Lifetime’?
Depending on how the work is distributed, you can find a line in Book I, Canto VIII. In that canto, there is a Part II entitled “The Revelation.” I was able to find this on the Poetry Foundation Website and confirm the placing of it on the Internet Archive.
THE REVELATION (via the Poetry Foundation)
by Coventry Patmore
An idle poet, here and there,
Looks round him; but, for all the rest,
The world, unfathomably fair,
Is duller than a witling’s jest.
Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;
They lift their heavy lids, and look;
And, lo, what one sweet page can teach,
They read with joy, then shut the book.
And some give thanks, and some blaspheme
And most forget; but, either way,
That and the Child’s unheeded dream
Is all the light of all their day.
Now, “Love wakes men, once a lifetime each,” doesn’t exactly have the phrase as we know it today, but the idea is the same.
What About Talking Heads?
Admittedly, I didn’t realize Talking Heads had a song entitled “Once in a Lifetime,” although I had heard it before.
During my research, I came across an article on Shmoop. This article looked at the themes behind the song “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads.
All in all, Talking Heads borrowed and celebrated African music and African America music, including rap. The band wanted to set itself apart from other rock bands at the time, while celebrating other genres of music. Knowing this, the music sounds even more beautiful.
On that note, I will leave you with the video for the song via YouTube:
“The angel in the house. Book I.–The betrothal. Book II.–The espousals by Patmore, Coventry Kersey Dighton, 1823-1896; Savill & Edwards, Printers. (1858).” Internet Archive. Web. Retrieved 9 Oct 2016. <https://archive.org/stream/angelinhousebook00patmrich#page/94/mode/2up>.
British Library Board. “Coventry Patmore’s poem, The Angel in the House.” The British Library. Web. Retrieved 9 Oct 2016. <https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/coventry-patmores-poem-the-angel-in-the-house#>.
“Coventry Patmore.” Poetry Foundation. Web. Retrieved 9 Oct 2016. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/coventry-patmore>.
“Coventry Patmore.” Wikiquote. Last Modified 13 Sep 2014. Web. Retrieved 8 Oct 2016. <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Coventry_Patmore>.
“once in a lifetime.” Dictionary.com. Web. Retrieved 2 Oct 2016. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/once-in-a-lifetime>.
“Once in a lifetime vs once-in-a-lifetime.” Grammartist. Web. Retrieved 8 Oct 2016. <http://grammarist.com/usage/once-in-a-lifetime-vs-once-in-a-lifetime/>.
Melani, Lilia. “The Angel in the House.” From the William Makepeace Thackery Syllabus; Brooklyn College. 2 Mar 2011. Lecture. Web. Retrieved 9 Oct 2016. <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_19c/thackeray/angel.html>.
“The Revelation by Coventry Patmore.” Poetry Foundation. Web. Retrieved 9 Oct 2016. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/49881>.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Once in a Lifetime Meaning.” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. Retrieved 8 Oct. 2016. <http://www.shmoop.com/once-in-a-lifetime/meaning.html>.