General Question

gailcalled's avatar

How were "wert" and "wast" used?

Asked by gailcalled (54570points) July 20th, 2007

Shelley's "Bird thou never wert" indicates that "wert' was second person singular (or intimate). But the bird was a skylark, wern't it?

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7 Answers

bob's avatar

wert and wast are archaic forms of "be." Wert is second-person singular past, and wast is first and third-person singular past. So you're correct, the modern-day version of the Shelley line would be "Bird you never were," or, to put it another way "you were never a bird."

Shelley doesn't mean that the bird literally isn't a bird; he's calling it (metaphorically) a spirit in the poem and saying that it's not a bird to emphasize his point. You can find a longer analysis of "To a skylark" at wikipedia, although I can't vouch for its accuracy.

bob's avatar

Oh, sorry for writing that so ... excessively simplified, gail. :)

gailcalled's avatar

I like jawing about a language that is not related to software or programming, so I wast happy to find a kindred spirit - perhaps Shelley meant "wert" in the subjunctive; making the phrase poetically ambiguous..Apparently one could and did say also, "Thou wast."

I think that birds have been used by most of the major poets metaphorically (Frost's OVENBIRD), G M Hopkins (THE WINDHOVER), Hardy, Yeats, and of course, Aristophanes.

bob's avatar

and Keats, too. He's one of my favorites.

breedmitch's avatar

dont forget Poe.

gailcalled's avatar

How could I forget Poe ?I wast being sloppy. Nevermore!

christybird's avatar

Wendell Barry writes a lot of bird poems too. And in French, Prevert has a few that are nice.

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