Does the last line of the first stanza of Katherine Philips's poem, To Mrs. M. A. at parting have a grammatical error?

It's surprising that a renowned poet and translator at that time would use the wrong pronoun to fit the rhyme. Or am I mistaken here?

I HAVE examin'd and do find,
Of all that favour me,
There's none I grieve to leave behind
But only, only thee.
To part with thee I needs must die,
Could parting sep'rate thee and I.

Would the poet's contemporaries have seen the construction as ungrammatical or non-standard (though acceptable in a poem) or was it more generally acceptable then than it is now?

If you think the subjective first-person singular pronoun "I" was only used in the last line due to "poetic license," please post that as an answer and provide evidence that the structure was considered ungrammatical outside of poetic contexts at the time the poem was written.

  • 9
    Poetic license. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 4:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about a poem. The poetic license covers deviations from 'standard' or 'grammatical' English. – Helmar Sep 28 '16 at 11:25
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    It's deliberate usage but not just to make it rhyme. What she was doing was echoing the previous line by reversing the word order. The fact that the grammar then became non-standard was part of the emphasis and the really clever word play. – BoldBen Sep 29 '16 at 6:09
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about a poem, where poetic license reigns. – Hot Licks Oct 10 '16 at 17:36
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    @HotLicks, how are questions about English language grammar in poems off topic? 'Poetic license' is any 'license' taken, in any writing or art, whereby deviations from "recognized forms or rules", are indulged for the sake of effect. The 'poetic license' (so-called), when referring to poetry (as opposed to, for example, liberties taken with perspective in visual artwork), generally refers to metrical deviations from standard metrical forms, not grammatical deviations in service of rhyme, which latter are usually (except in humorous or dialectal poetry) regarded as unmitigated flaws. – JEL Oct 11 '16 at 6:01

At the time Philips wrote the poem, around the middle of the 17th century, the use of 'I' as the object of a verb or preposition was (sometimes) considered grammatical. As noted in the entry under I, pron. and n.2, A.II.2a, OED Online,

This has been common at various times (esp. towards the end of the 16th and in the 17th cent., and from the mid 20th cent. onwards); it has been considered ungrammatical since the 18th cent.

["I, pron. and n.2". OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/90671 (accessed September 28, 2016).]

As defined in A.II.2a, the pronoun 'I' is

Used for the objective case after a verb or preposition when separated from the governing word by other words (esp. in coordinate constructions with another pronoun and and).

(op. cit.)

Among the attestations are three from Shakespeare in the early 1600s (Merchant of Venice, Sonnets and As You Like It), as well as this from The Nicholas Papers in 1649:

example: "to give you and I"

Two attestations from The provok'd wife (1697) make the case for uses in the latter half of the 1600s:

example: "light upon Heartfree and I"

(The provok'd wife, J. Vanbrugh)

example: "between you and I"

(op. cit.)

  • So when I change the lyrics of Pat-a-Cake to "...and mark it with a Y/and throw it in the oven for Y___ and I!" I could claim to be archaic, rather than just ungrammatical/non-standard/taking poetic license? (This has seriously been on my mind; quite a timely question for me as my baby Y___ is now 6 months old.) – 1006a Oct 10 '16 at 15:57
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    @1006a, sure you could. Whoever you're talking to might not buy your claim, but that's neither here nor there. Grammar, being a matter of established usage at the time of use, and being changeable over time, is correct or incorrect depending on when it is used (or on, as you suggest, a simulated time period). If the use in this poem was an established use when the poem was written, the poem was not ungrammatical at the time, however much it may be considered ungrammatical if written now. – JEL Oct 11 '16 at 1:54
  • @1006a, after looking into it a bit more (you understand the following is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, right?), your revision of "Pattycake" might run afoul of pedants whining about anacronism. This is because the first recorded version from 1698 is not entirely suitable, while the second is from around 1765, when the objective 'I' was probably considered ungrammatical. I suggest you avoid the problem this by claiming yours is a 'lost' first version from the late 1600s. – JEL Oct 11 '16 at 6:38

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