Richibi’s Weblog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Category: grammar

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

impression-sunrise.jpg!Large

Impression, Sunrise” (1873)

Claude Monet

________

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

much like Elizabeth Taylor as Martha
in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”,
my answer is, I am, George, I am

the subjunctive is an esoteric mood,
even more abstruse in English than
in other languages, where the verb’s
conjugation highlights its presence,
in English, it’s nearly identical to the
indicative, the mood everybody
instinctively speaks in, facts

the subjunctive is about aspiration,
like the conditional, abstract, not
real, but its intention, rather than
the conditional’s inherent
impediment, a condition, shoots
for the stars, isn’t introspective,
but adamant, imperative

it is necessary that one be, it is
urgent that one have, it is
important that one effect, a
particular thing or event, all
subjunctives after the
doorkeeper word, “that”

one finds the subjunctive in
Shakespeare, master of grammar,
perhaps unparalleled in English,
a lot – O, that this too solid flesh
would melt, / Thaw and resolve
itself into a dew!
– and follows
with Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Pardon, o pardon that my soul
should make, / Of all that strong
divineness which I know / For
thine and thee …,
for instance,
who is so profoundly indebted to
Shakespeare for her aesthetics

one wondrous day, I realized that
Proust’s entire À la recherche du
temps perdu
, his “In Search of
Lost Time
“, my Bible, was set in
the, French however, subjunctive,
the mood, there as well, of
possibility, therefore rather than
the definitive recreation of an
earlier time, Proust was
describing a sensibility, a personal
interpretation of a previous reality,
however bolstered by intimate and
apparently precise recollection of
shimmeringly imprecise, though
personally accurate, impressions

note here the similar preoccupations
of Proust’s contemporaries, the, aptly
named, Impressionists

everything, Proust was saying, as
were also the Impressionists, is in
the eye of the beholder

the subjunctive is the mood that
sets this instinct in motion

R ! chard

psst: Somerset Maugham I remember
being noteworthy as well for his
immaculate use, in his South
Pacific tales, of the subjunctive,
extremely elegant in its refined
construction, even with its
English austerities, like making
lace out of mere cloth, impressive
despite its impracticality, or
perhaps even because of it

grammmar in action, verb moods

philosophy-and-grammar.jpg!Large

 

     Philosophy and Grammar 

   

            Gentile da Fabriano

 

                    __________

 

reach, imperative, I always say, indicative, 

for a star, you might, conditional, get the 

moon, but you might also, conditional, 

get a star

 

such is the power of mood in verb 

structure, and an expression of how 

words through grammatical stipulations

become inspiration, poetry

 

think about it 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

 

the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

a juxtaposition of verb moods

 

       the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!Blog.jpg

           The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818) 


                   Caspar David Friedrich

 

                         _______________

 

 

a cardinal rule, the juxtaposition of two 

things of the same sort will exponentially

increase the information gleaned of either

 

therefore the following

 

The Impossible Dream“, listen 

 

       To dream the impossible dream

       To fight the unbeatable foe

       To bear with unbearable sorrow

       To run where the brave dare not go

 

       To right the unrightable wrong

       To love pure and chaste from afar

       To try when your arms are too weary

       To reach the unreachable star

 

       This is my quest, to follow that star

       No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

       To fight for the right

       Without question or pause

       To be willing to march

       Into hell for a heavenly cause

 

        And I know if I’ll only be true

       To this glorious quest

        That my heart will lay peaceful and calm

        When I’m laid to my rest

 

        And the world will be better for this

        That one man scorned and covered with scars

         Still strove  with his last ounce of courage

         To fight the unbeatable foe

         To reach the unreachable star

 

and Climb Every Mountain, listen again

 

        Climb every mountain

        Search high and low

        Follow every byway

        Every path you know

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

        A dream that will need  

        All the love you can give

        Every day of your life

        For as long as you live

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

 

an initial similarity, they are both

inspirational

 

an initial divergence, the former is 

in the infinitive mood, which is to 

say that the lesson is for all time

in all places and for all people, 

while the second is an imperative,

in other words, an exhortation,

something only pertaining to the 

future, though the other conditions,

of place, and of person, can still 

apply  

 

note that the verse, in either, is in 

the indicative, in keeping with, in

each, the altered air, the second,

and contrasting melody, which in

both, note, personalizes, makes

the recommendation actual, no

longer merely idealized, the

indicative is the only mood which

deals in facts, the other moods

are all imagined, dreamed

 

let me point out that in comparison

with songs in the indicative, love

songs and the like, the show tunes

above find their source in medieval

religious music, hymns, liturgical

stuff, and more recently,

comparatively, specifically in

England after the Protestant

Reformation with Handel’s both

church and ceremonial music

 

in which England went on to

specialize, incidentally, while other

forms of music there, the racier,

secular European stuff, had been

demonized, deemed sinful, and

thus proscribed

 

England would only get its mojo back

in the 1960s with the Beatles

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

       

the indicative

grammar.jpg!Large

        Grammar 

 

              Gentile da Fabriano


                          ____________

 


since I’d only recently vaunted both the 

infinitive and the imperative moods of 

verbs in this venue, you might’ve 

expected that the indicative would 

soon follow

 

and here it is, the indicative, the mood 

of narratives, storytelling, the default 

mode, essentially, where most of our 

communication takes place, be it

oral or written

 

famous first lines of novels will attest

to that, lines you’ve probably heard 

before, however only incidentally, if 

not actually read

 

        It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

 

from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities


and the rest is so good, I can’t, in all 

consciousness, exclude it

 

        it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was 

        the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the 

        season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the 

        spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. 

 

or

 

        Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. 

 

from Daphne du Maurier’s eerily Gothic 

Rebecca“, heiress to not only Charlotte 

Brontë’s Jane Eyre“, but also to her 

sister Emily’s, to my mind, much more 

accomplished work, Wuthering“, and 

indeed wonderful, Heights“, whereupon 

I’ll refrain from continuing to follow the

sentences, however compelling, for 

lack of space and time

 

but

 

        I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

 

from Out of Africa“, Karen Blixen’s

unforgettable novel, however brilliantly

translated to film, must take its place

here among towering introductory

sallies 

 

       Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure. 

 

Proust’s answer to Homer, his “À la 

recherche du temps perdu“, his

Remembrance of Things Past  

 

      For a long time, I’d go to bed early.

 

which, as I read on, no less than

changed my life 

 

but that’s another story, however

totally engrossing

 


everywhere above, let me point out, 

the mood has been indicative, to a 

very verb, so unobtrusive you 

probably didn’t even notice 

 

in music, a counterpart for the 

indicative would be the allegro, 

the baseline, not too fast, not 

too slow, the tempo listeners 

would most easily respond to

 

but more about that only later, after

a traipse through the speculative 

conditional, then  the aspirational 

subjunctive

 

meanwhile, check this out, The

Heart of the Matter“, the Eagles, a

ballad, mostly indicatives, but with

here and there an infinitive, and a

peppering of conditionals, however

might these be signal, to utterly break 

your heart

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

the infinitive in Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be”

philosophy-and-grammar.jpg!Large

     Philosophy and Grammar 

 

           Gentile da Fabriano


                  __________

 


when I referred to Shakespeare’s 

perhaps most famous monologue,

To be, or not to be, in my most 

recent transmission, in order to 

shed light on the idea of tempi, 

that it would parallel Beethoven’s

Opus 111 in its philosophical 

significance, however might’ve I 

done so unintentionally, was

nevertheless quite spot on, it is

perhaps his most potent

disquisition, as is Beethoven’s

own masterpiece, on existence

 

but let me extrapolate

 

to be, or not to be, both infinitives,

which is to say that their form, their 

moodrelate to infinity, the infinite, 

etymological correlatives, which 

means that the actions, thus, are 

not localized, not specific, but 

belong to all places at all times and

for all people, the very stuff, let me

point out, of philosophy 

 

whether ’tis nobler in the mind to 

suffer, infinitive, the slings and 

arrows of outrageous fortune, or 

to take, infinitive again, arms 

against a sea of troubles, and by 

opposing end, bare infinitive,

which is to say, without the

preposition to, them  

 

as in  

 

to die, to sleep, infinitives, no more, 

and by a sleep to say, infinitive, we 

end the heartache and the thousand 

natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 

’tis a consummation devoutly to be 

wished, passive infinitive      

 

you’ll find that the rest of the 

soliloquy abounds in infinitives,       

the grammatical home, the 

territory, of philosophy

 

with this speech, incidentally, 

Shakespeare kicks off, in

literature, the Renaissance, much

as Beethoven with his Opus 111

firmly establishes, in music, the

Romantic Period


compare, meanwhile, thou shalt 

not kill, an imperative, the mood

the tenor, the register, is of 

commandments, it differs from 

the infinitive in that, though 

seemingly universal at first, there 

is an exception to its authoritative 

span, and that exception is the 

speaker, all others are called upon 

to abide, this is not philosophy, 

this is power 


 

much as in music, see in that context

my earlier text, one can read an awful 

lot between the lines

 

 

R ! chard