Юлия Гофри (jgofri) wrote in linguaphiles,

An bug or a feature?

I was wondering if you you could help me settle a small disagreement I had with my son today.
He had recently wrote a poem that starts with the following line:

"By the silver of the moonlight and the golden of the sun..."

Personally, I think this is not the correct usage of the word "golden."  When read separately, "the golden of the sun" does not seem to make sense (the golden what of the sun?).  One could think it refers to the word "light", but the word "light" is part of the "moonlight" here.  Then again, one could always spell it as "moon light".  Still sounds a bit off.

My son realized this is not quite a conventional use of the word, but seems to think it is OK in a poem.
On one hand, he is a native speaker, unlike myself.
On the other hand - well, he is a kid.  Elementary school age.

I know that in a poem you get away with (and even get praise for) some things you would not normally get away with in prose, and I was wondering whether this was one of those times.

So.
Is it OK the way it is?
If not, will breaking the "moonlight" into "moon light" help?  Or should he search for a replacement? "gold light", for instance?

Like I said, it is a small thing, but it nags me.
Any input will be appreciated!

UPD.  Thank you very much!  I really appreciate all your responses. 
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  • 41 comments

stacyinthecity

July 1 2014, 22:39:12 UTC 4 weeks ago

It is poetry. It works.

I understand it as "by the silver of the moon light and the golden of the sun (light - understood)".

But even if that is wrong, it is poetic license so a lot of stuff that we don't say in conversational usage is used in poetry.

jgofri

July 1 2014, 23:04:56 UTC 4 weeks ago

While it is true that poets get a special license to bend some rules quite far, I also know that some of said poets abuse that license very badly, using it to cover up complete lack of skill with both style and grammar. I've seen many examples, as, I am sure, have you. So, I wanted to be sure :)

Thanks!

beesandbrews

July 1 2014, 22:42:14 UTC 4 weeks ago

Golden is an adjective: colored or shining like gold. So your son is okay on this one. Moonlight is generally one word, so no reason to change that either.

jgofri

July 1 2014, 23:05:19 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thank you! glad to hear that.

alessandriana

July 1 2014, 22:43:09 UTC 4 weeks ago

Seems perfectly understandable to me, especially since it's a poem.

I would definitely not split moonlight up; it's one word. "Golden light" would work as an alternative but personally I think the rhythm is better as "golden of the sun".

jgofri

July 1 2014, 22:56:23 UTC 4 weeks ago

That's right, the rhythm is the whole reason for this, "golden light" would definitely break it.
Thanks!

taversham

July 1 2014, 23:15:58 UTC 4 weeks ago

I agree with the other comments - perfectly fine as it is (for a poem).

jgofri

July 1 2014, 23:29:41 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thanks!

wasureneba

July 1 2014, 23:57:18 UTC 4 weeks ago

Like someone else pointed out, "golden" is an adjective; this is an unusual usage for an adjective. Typically, you would see a noun in that place (the beauty of the sun, the heat of the sun, etc.); it's really not a place where you see adjectives. "Gold" would be the grammatically correct form to use in this context. That being said, English does let you switch words between categories pretty easily, which is probably why people are ok with this under "poetic license".

jgofri

July 2 2014, 00:55:11 UTC 4 weeks ago

See, this is exactly why I was asking!
Thank you for responding. Now I don't feel like the answer was too obvious :)

biascut

4 weeks ago

whswhs

July 2 2014, 00:16:46 UTC 4 weeks ago

I approach poetry in the spirit of Robert Frost's "Writing free verse is like playing tennis without the net": I expect a higher level of formality in poetry, both in meter and in syntax.

The line as you give it is an elliptical construction, relying on parallel construction to make repetition of some words unnecessary. If you fill those in, it's

By the silver of the moonlight and by the golden of the sunlight.

In that line, "By the silver" is a prepositional phrase whose direct object is "silver." And "by the golden" also has the form of a prepositional phrase. But "golden" is an adjective, and the object of a preposition must be a noun or pronoun. "Silver" can be either a noun or an adjective, and the same is true of "gold," but the word "golden" can only be an adjective. So it can't be the object of a preposition, and "by the golden" is not properly constructed.

What makes the line look as if it were properly constructed is that the reader's mind subconsciously displaced the word "light" to get "by the silver [light] of the moon[ ]." And then the parallel "by the golden [light] of the sun" works fine. So it's a clever bit of linguistic construction. But it's not formally correct.

jgofri

July 2 2014, 01:02:14 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thank you!
That is a great piece of analysis, and I even learned a new concept from it!

I feel strongly tempted to bookmark this reply until for when my son is old enough to understand this :)

electricdruid

July 2 2014, 00:34:07 UTC 4 weeks ago

I think it is fine under poetic license, but if you are still considering an alternative, my suggestion would be to replace "golden" with "gold light", which is more grammatically correct but still retains the same number of syllables.

jgofri

July 2 2014, 01:03:04 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thank you!

biascut

4 weeks ago

electricdruid

4 weeks ago

biascut

4 weeks ago

lignota

July 2 2014, 00:40:37 UTC 4 weeks ago

I think it's fine in poetry.

jgofri

July 2 2014, 01:03:11 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thanks!

mamculuna

July 2 2014, 01:53:27 UTC 4 weeks ago

As a person who loves poetry and has published a bit, of course I say that what the writer prefers is what should stay. But as a reader, I'd be happier with "the gold of the sun," mostly as a match for "the silver of the moonlight."

jgofri

July 2 2014, 02:49:06 UTC 4 weeks ago

Well, as someone who speaks English as a second language, I mostly wanted to know for myself. The everyday education sort of thing.
As a reader, I would probably prefer "gold", but would never offer unsolicited opinion on that to a poet.
As a parent, however, I feel like I am actually required to correct my son's grammar, as well as speak on a subject with some degree of confidence.
Thank you for your response!

mamculuna

4 weeks ago

jgofri

4 weeks ago

teacoat

July 2 2014, 01:55:41 UTC 4 weeks ago

I'm surprised no one has presented "By the silver of the moonlight and the gold of the sun..." as an alternative. Poetic license is fine, but there's a difference between poetic license and incorrect grammar. It can only be considered poetic license if it is carefully chosen and done for a particular effect. In this case i think the ungrammaticalness takes from the poetic effect, rather than adds to it.

jgofri

July 2 2014, 02:50:37 UTC 4 weeks ago

Someone mentioned that, but "the gold of the sun" has different number of syllables, and that breaks the rhythm. "Gold light" will work from that perspective, but it is not so nice, phonetically.
Ultimately, it will be up to him, but I wanted to know what people think.

Thank you!

yiskah

4 weeks ago

herongale

4 weeks ago

biascut

4 weeks ago

mack_the_spoon

July 2 2014, 06:05:13 UTC 4 weeks ago

My opinion as a native speaker and one who enjoys poetry is that your son's original version is the most beautiful and lyrical of the options people have mentioned.

jgofri

July 2 2014, 06:28:05 UTC 4 weeks ago

Thank you very much!
I am very happy to hear it :), and so will he.

iddewes

4 weeks ago

houseboatonstyx

4 weeks ago

thefish30

4 weeks ago

jgofri

3 weeks ago

dragondances

4 weeks ago

cat63

July 2 2014, 11:02:28 UTC 4 weeks ago

I think it sounds lovely and that "the golden of the sun" implies the word "light" without needing it to actually be there, especially as it's clearly related to the moonlight in the first part of the line.

sollersuk

July 2 2014, 16:05:16 UTC 4 weeks ago

I don't have any problems with it in poetry. My mother knew the man who started a poem "Once it was the colour of saying".

jgofri

July 3 2014, 22:35:30 UTC 3 weeks ago

But this is actually grammatically correct, isn't it? "Saying" could be a noun. Making sense is another issue :)

nagasvoice

July 3 2014, 06:50:11 UTC 3 weeks ago

I think the poet has done a very nice job of implying words that aren't there, creating gaps so people read into it with the correct grammar without having to break the meter. This is especially true if it was sung, we would hear virtual words. Nice effect, and not a mistake at all, but subtle enough that some English teachers would make him correct it.

jgofri

July 3 2014, 22:38:01 UTC 3 weeks ago

Which is exactly why I never suggested for him to ask his teacher. She would probably just assume this was a mistake.
Don't get me wrong, I truly appreciate the job they do, but their perception can be skewed a little in matters like this one.