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A few grammar and interpretation questions regarding Tennyson's poem Ulysses On the poem Ulysses, one is faced with grammatical constructions such as: "I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me." I understand the meaning perfectly, but why shouldn't it be "that hoardS, and sleepS and feedS" ? "And when, through scudding drifts, the rainy Hyades vexed the sea " <- What am I supposed to imagine when I read "scudding drifts"? "I am become a name" <- I know perfectly what it means, but I don't understand the grammar, why not "I have became a name"? "Myself not least, but honoured of them all" <- I know this verse means ""I wasn't treated like the least little thing but was honored by everybody I met", but grammatically speaking, how does it work? Okay that'll be all for now, thanks in advance :)
Oct 25, 2016 6:36 PM
Answers · 9
"Myself not least, but honoured of them all" <- I know this verse means ""I wasn't treated like the least little thing but was honored by everybody I met", but grammatically speaking, how does it work? The context is: "Much have I seen and known; cities of men And manners, climates, councils, governments, Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;" And my answer is: I haven't a clue. I'm not sure it actually makes sense. I want to attach "Myself not least" to the list of things "have I seen and known"--he's known cities, manner, councils, governments and he's known himself. And I am not sure who honored whom. Even a great poet like Tennyson is not above bending the language a bit to fit the rhyme and the meter... or reviving rare and unfamiliar usages that fit. When I read poetry I'm used to shrugging off puzzles here and there, just as I do in song lyrics. Add: Well, I Googled and found something that says "Though he did not rank below them, he made it a point to honor all of them." That makes as much sense as anything.
October 25, 2016
This is my take on “race” and “I am become” (I have nothing else to add to what Dan Smith has already written): About “race”: It may be poetic licence, as Dan Smith says, but in British English you can often use both the singular and the plural about collective nouns, like “government” and “audience” for instance, depending on whether or not you treat it as a single unit or as a group of individuals. Race can be considered a group of individuals, so to me it’s quite logical to use the plural in this context. “I am become”: In Danish we use “to be” and “to have” as auxiliary verbs the same way as in English, but sometimes we use “be” where English would have used “have” and vice versa. In Danish we for instance say “I am become”. As I see it, it’s purely as matter of convention whether one uses “be” or have”. At that time apparently “be” was preferred instead of “have”.
October 25, 2016
This are not easy even for a native English speaker. I will be curious to read others' answers. Some may be old usages that were a little old-fashioned in Tennyson's time, and have been forgotten by modern speakers. "...shouldn't it be "that hoardS, and sleepS and feedS?" You know what? I think you're right! What can I say but "poetic license?" "Scudding drifts" means that the wind was blowing off the top of the waves, and you can see whitish bits of foam and drops of water being blown along the top of the water... like drifting sand or snow. "I am become" is interesting. I agree that "I have become" (not "became") is more natural in modern English. The first thing that crossed my mind when I read that is "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," which is a translation of a line from the Bhagavad Gita which Robert Oppenheimer quoted after the first successful atomic bomb test. A famous Bible passage says "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Project Gutenberg turns up many other examples: "I am become such an old fogy that I am amazed at your spirit..."--Charles Darwin. "I am become a better husband..."--Samuel Pepys. "I am become a stranger..."--Robert Louis Stevenson. Charles Darwin was writing in his own voice and informally. So I guess that "I am become" is grammatically correct and was used as recently as Victorian times, but that nowadays it is more natural for us to express the idea in the past tense than in the present.
October 25, 2016
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