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"Through the thick wood, that gave him way, and past the thorns that drew

Their sharpest points another way, the King's son presses through.

He reached the guard, the court, the hall,—and there, where'er he stept,

He saw the sentinels, and grooms, and courtiers as they slept.

Ladies in act to smile, and pages in attendance wait;"

This is from Walter Crane's Sleeping Beauty (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23521/23521-h/23521-h.htm). I wonder what verbs would have been in the bolded last sentence.

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2 Answers 2

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This line does have a rather twisted syntax, in order to make it rhyme. However, there are no verbs missing. Dropping the intervening prepositional phrases, you get

ladies and pages wait.

Paraphrased, this line means

ladies (caught in the act of starting to smile) wait to smile, and pages wait to attend (on their masters).

Since pages wait on their masters, and these ladies might be ladies-in-waiting, there is a subtle play on words here.

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  • Ladies caught in the act of smiling wait to smile? Mar 16, 2020 at 19:16
  • @EdwinAshworth: I said that wrong, didn't I? Mar 16, 2020 at 19:39
  • Your explanation makes sense now (and I hadn't seen this possible exposition), but are you sure that's the sense of the original? I'm guessing at '[There are] ladies caught in the [very] act of smiling; and pages in attendance wait.' The original mixes present historic and past simple worryingly, at any rate. I'll try to check other verses. Mar 17, 2020 at 11:40
  • '[W]as never beauty such as this ...' deletes the existential 'there' a little later. I suspect verb deletion here. Mar 17, 2020 at 11:47
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I don't see any omitted verbs. The use of "in act" is a little strange, but otherwise, the sentence is readable: "Ladies smile, pages wait".

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  • I don't see how smile can be a finite verb, but wait certainly is.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 16, 2020 at 18:25

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