language and mind

April 26, 2011

‘And they were happier than I am’ – ‘Whoever you are’

Filed under: grammar, language, language use — Tags: , , — teresapelka @ 11:50 am

The potentially most distant and closest of denotations – the pronoun ‘you’

‘And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am’, wrote Ezra Pound in his ‘Salutation’.

‘Whoever you are holding me now in hand,
Without one thing all will be useless’, said Walt Whitman in his ‘Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand’.

The pronoun ‘you’ happens to give readers trouble. The ‘common sense’ reader might try to dismiss Pound, Whitman, or Eliot – all ‘like talking to someone they don’t know’. Well, common sense, Whitman sure wasn’t perorating to a King Kong. The poets use the pronoun ‘you’ – and what does it actually mean?

‘You’ may mean a single person as well as many persons. Basically, a ‘YOU’ is a ‘NOT ME’ – ‘stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven’, says Marlowe.

‘Let us go then, YOU and I’, wrote T.S. Eliot. Again, I have to quash my spellchecker. :)

Let us now imagine we are telling someone the way, ‘then YOU go left and turn right by the corner, I’ve been there many times myself’. ‘You’ becomes close to ‘one’ and ‘me‘: ‘then one goes left and turns right by the corner; I remember me gone there’.

The pronoun ‘you’ is potentially the most distant and closest of denotations in English. No wonder it became an object of the wordsmiths’ observations. :)

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