Source: The original Miller of Dee from Bickerstaffe's "Love in a village" (1762)

There dwelt a miller, hale and bold, beside the river Dee;
He danced and sang from morn till night, no lark so blithe as he;
And this the burden of his song forever used to be: -
"I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody cares for me.

1. I was reading https://english.stackexchange.com/a/96966/50720 when I lighted upon this, so why are the problems concerning the accusative (me) vs nominative case (I) here?

How do you determine/deduce what the last line means?

2. I care for nobody, I really do care for nobody, if nobody cares for me.

3. I care for nobody, no not even for myself, if nobody cares for me.


I'd say that the right meaning for no not I would be "I really do care for nobody" as you've stated as the last part of the line states "If nobody cares for me".

  • 2
    A much more modern example, from Gloria Gaynor: "Did you think I'd lay down and die? / Oh no not I. I will survive" Jan 27 '15 at 14:37

It's grammatical, and understandable as an emphatic restatement of "I care for nobody", but it is peculiarly phrased, because it is really a restatement of what was NOT said: "I do not care for anyone".

From the actual syntax, it seems to be confirming a positive with a negative, a seeming impossibility. The context makes it clear that this is exactly what it does.

This odd turnabout makes the sentence sound poetic/literary; such construction is not (these days anyway) common practice.


At the risk of repeating the arguments of Brian Hitchcock and Kyle Emmanuel, let me suggest that the simplest way to understand the words "no not I" may be as a parenthetical reiteration of the first part of the sentence ("I care for nobody"). The actual meaning of "no not I" is equivalent to "indeed I do not," so let's introduce that equivalent phrase in place of the original phrase—setting it off with em-dashes to emphasize the break in thought—and then look at the resulting sentence:

I care for nobody—indeed I do not—if nobody cares for me

Now we reach the problem that Brian Hitchcock very neatly addresses in his answer: that "indeed I do not" is expressed as a negative, whereas "I care for nobody" is nominally worded as a positive. Here it is essential to recognize that "I care for nobody" is equivalent in English to "I don't care for anybody," so if we substitute that phrase for the original opening phrase, the resulting statement should make perfect sense:

"I don't care for anybody—indeed I do not—if nobody cares for me

If that wording makes sense to you, then you have the key to understanding the original wording, too, because that's all there is to it:

I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody cares for me

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