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The other day I put one and one and one together and suddenly realized that I had three separate associations for the obscure word “glean”.

First, it's a thing that I actually do. I've known that for a while; I've consciously gleaned in the past, and in fact I was gleaning when I thought of the other two associations. I'm not talking about some abstract kind of gleaning, either. I was out in the sun, squatting down, carefully picking up a bunch of tiny things one at a time with my two bare hands. So what was I doing? The tiny things were bits of broken glass, and I was out picking up trash. There are other kinds of trash that need to be gleaned, but broken glass is by far the most common.

Just for fun, here's the dictionary definition.

  1. To gather (grain) left behind by reapers.
  2. To collect bit by bit: “records from which historians glean their knowledge” (Kemp Malone).

Second, in high-school English I encountered a bit of verse which Familiar Quotations informs me is by Keats.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain.

I'd forgotten most of the verse, but I still vividly remember that I sat back in the back row (of three, maybe) with a pal of mine, and we cracked ourselves up then and for days and weeks afterward by reciting it to each other in an Elmer Fudd voice. It was the last part that really did it: “gweaned my teeming bwain”. Naturally we got scolded by the teacher as a result.

Third, although all the other entries for “glean” in Familiar Quotations are biblical, I happen to know that it also appears in Hamlet. The wording I remember is actually from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

GUIL: We have been briefed. Hamlet's transformation. What do you recollect?

ROS: Well, he's changed, hasn't he? The exterior and inward man fails to resemble—

GUIL: Draw him on to pleasures—glean what afflicts him.

There's some really great stuff after that. I'm tempted to go on and point out my favorite parts, but there's just no end to it. Instead, I'll just mention that I like the bit about “royal retainer”, and quote this excellent sentence.

ROS: To sum up: your father, whom you love, dies, you are his heir, you come back to find that hardly was the corpse cold before his young brother popped onto his throne and into his sheets, thereby offending both legal and natural practice. Now why exactly are you behaving in this extraordinary manner?


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@ July (2013)