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I have been reading This Side of Paradise and came across an ambiguous phrase that ends Amory Blaine's little satire in which he mocks his professors. I have reproduced the satire along with an additional passage before that might help clarify sentiments expressed in the satire and perhaps the meaning of the end line: "The Mighty Yawn that gave you birth".

Amory rather scornfully avoided the popular professors who dispensed easy epigrams and thimblefuls of Chartreuse to groups of admirers every night. He was disappointed, too, at the air of general uncertainty on every subject that seemed linked with the pedantic temperament; his opinions took shape in a miniature satire called "In a Lecture-Room," which he persuaded Tom to print in the Nassau Lit.

"Good-morning, Fool... Three times a week You hold us helpless while you speak, Teasing our thirsty souls with the Sleek 'yeas' of your philosophy... Well, here we are, your hundred sheep, Tune up, play on, pour forth ... we sleep... You are a student, so they say; You hammered out the other day A syllabus, from what we know Of some forgotten folio; You'd sniffled through an era's must, Filling your nostrils up with dust, And then, arising from your knees, Published, in one gigantic sneeze... But here's a neighbor on my right, An Eager Ass, considered bright; Asker of questions.... How he'll stand, With earnest air and fidgy hand, After this hour, telling you He sat all night and burrowed through Your book.... Oh, you'll be coy and he Will simulate precosity, And pedants both, you'll smile and smirk, And leer, and hasten back to work....

'Twas this day week, sir, you returned A theme of mine, from which I learned (Through various comment on the side Which you had scrawled) that I defied The highest rules of criticism For cheap and careless witticism.... 'Are you quite sure that this could be?' And 'Shaw is no authority!' But Eager Ass, with what he's sent, Plays havoc with your best per cent.

Stillstill I meet you here and there... When Shakespeare's played you hold a chair, And some defunct, moth-eaten star Enchants the mental prig you are... A radical comes down and shocks The atheistic orthodox? You're representing Common Sense, Mouth open, in the audience. And, sometimes, even chapel lures That conscious tolerance of yours, That broad and beaming view of truth (Including Kant and General Booth...) And so from shock to shock you live, A hollow, pale affirmative...

The hour's up ... and roused from rest One hundred children of the blest Cheat you a word or two with feet That down the noisy aisle-ways beat... Forget on narrow-minded earth The Mighty Yawn that gave you birth."

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I think Fitzgerald intends to establish a parallel between Mighty Yawn and Great Breath, being satirical about the creative activity described in Genesis where the breath of God gives birth to man.

My interpretation of the last paragraph: The lecture hour is up and the students file out as soon as they can (before the last word or two is spoken, "cheating" the lecturer of that last bit of time). As they exit noisily, the lecturer (and by extension, the lecture itself) is so absent from their minds it's as if they've forgotten the lecturer even existed.

  • Regarding the satyrical nature of the quote, I think the humor of comparing to a Yawn the carelessness with which God created the Professor is brilliant. (I think it would have been easier to interpret this sentence as regarding the student's forgetfulness if Fitzgerald had used "Forgetting" instead of "Forget".) – Peter Apr 9 at 20:39
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Fitzgerald is not always an easy read. That speech reminds me a bit of the way Cyrano de Bergerac would skewer his opponents with words (usually just before he did it with his sword).

I think he's saying that the Professor's birth was nothing more than a mighty yawn - something of little significance.

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I think it means gap or cavity. In this case that he was born out of a hole in the earth.

The entire play is here.

There are other sentences like this:

though I am secretly sure that the "black chasm of Romanism" yawns beneath you. Do write me soon.

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