5

There was a shepherd that did live,

And held his thoughts as high

As were the mounts whereon his flocks

Did hourly feed him by.

This beautiful little piece is quoted in "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau. I want to know how the grammar of the last line is interpreted.

What does "did hourly feed him by" actually mean? Are there any missing punctuation marks?

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  • 1
    Feed is transitive here, so: his flocks continuously fed by him.
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 10:32
  • 5
    It's almost certainly a re-ordering of 'did feed beside / next to / by him'. This particular terminal preposition usage is non-standard nowadays. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 10:35
  • 2
    NB. It is quoted in Walden, but originally published by Robert Jones in ‘The Muses Gardin for delight’ in 1611. It seems unclear if he wrote or ‘collected’ it. The poem itself is called ‘The Shepherd’s Love for Philliday’.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 10:44
  • 1
    Edwin is right. The usage is same as the one in the more recognizable phrase "pass him by".
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 11:11
  • Thanks for the clarification. I get it now. Noted that it was quoted in Walden and updated the question.
    – mysan
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 4:19

2 Answers 2

5

It's almost certainly a re-ordering of 'did feed beside / next to / by him'. This particular terminal preposition usage is non-standard nowadays.

@Edwin Ashworth


See also the later question

Who is being fed in "Did hourly feed him by" from Walden, or, Life in the Woods?

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  • '... did feed him by' uses 'by' as a postposition. // Probably the most famous example (versification by Francis Rous, c1650) is 'The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want. He makes me down to lie in pastures green; He leadeth me the quiet waters by.' Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 10:25
  • This is definitely a question where it would be good if the system provided pointers to any other questions closed as duplicates and which have upvoted answers (Sven Yargs wrote an excellent answer to the later question about exactly the same thing). I've just included a link to it in my/our/your answer, but I wonder if it's worth asking on Meta for some kind of "built-in" facility for such cases. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 10:43
  • ...but isn't He passed me by essentially the same "post-positioned preposition" usage? I wouldn't really call that outdated or "poetic", but maybe it's a "frozen form". Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 11:07
  • Yes, 'pass someone by' is classed by CD, McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs etc as an [obligatorily separable] 'phrasal verb' [MWV]. Confusingly, 'pass by [someone/something]' (at least 3 subsenses, transitive and intransitive) also exists, an inseparable MWV (or arguably V + Prep/Adv). Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 14:30
  • I would take him by as a kind of absolute construction, him nearby. Compare: The toddlers were playing, nanny nearby.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 16:16
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The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want; / He makes me down to lie / In pastures green; He leadeth me / The quiet waters by.

He leadeth me The quiet waters by. = He leadeth me by (past or near) the quiet waters.

or

OED

by | bye, adj.

Generally. The opposite of main.

  1. Situated to one side, ... or out of the way, as a place; running in a side direction, or out of the way, as a path.

In both cases, used postpositionally for the purpose of rhyme.

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