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Getting started on classical Latin
Getting started on classical Latin

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4.4.2 English poetry: subjects and objects

In English prose – as in spoken English – you can normally rely on sentences conforming to the standard word order of subject–object–verb (or simply subject–verb where the sentence doesn’t contain an object). Neither Latin nor English is always so straightforward, however. In English poetry, in particular, it is not uncommon to find language used in experimental or unconventional ways, word order included. Consider the following, for example:

The dark and vicious place where thee he got
Cost him his eyes.

(Shakespeare, King Lear, 5.3.171–2)

In the three words formatted in bold above, Shakespeare varies the word order from a standard English word order. Thee is the old English objective form of thou, and the normal order would be ‘he got [= begot] thee’. Poets, for special effect or to improve the metrical rhythm, often do vary the order. Consider this example from Shakespeare’s Sonnet no. 133:

Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken

(Shakespeare, Sonnet no. 133, line 5)

Here we can analyse the sentence to find out the structure:

  1. Which is the verb? – ‘hath taken’
  2. Who/what has done the action? – ‘thy cruel eye’ (subject)
  3. What has been taken? – ‘me’ (object)


  • To me fair friend, you never can be old;
  • For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
  • Such seems your beauty still.
(Shakespeare, Sonnet no. 104, lines 1–3)

What is the grammatical structure in ‘when first your eye I eyed’?

  1. What is the verb? – ‘eyed’
  2. Who/what is doing the action? – ‘I’ (subject)
  3. What is being eyed? – ‘your eye’ (object)

This sort of analysis will be important in your study of Latin. But, as it is the case-ending on the Latin noun which indicates whether it is subject or object, it will be easier to sort out which is which in a Latin sentence than it is in some passages of English text.

Activity 12

To make sure you have understood the principles established so far, see if you can pick out the subject, verb and object in the following seven examples. Record your answers in the box provided.

Example 1

Our hearts you see not;

(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 3.1.170)

Example 2

For that security craves great Lucifer

(Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, 2.1.36)

Example 3

This casket India's glowing gems unlocks

(Pope, The Rape of the Lock, 1.133)

Example 4

Wit, brav’ry, worth, his lavish tongue bestows

(Johnson, London, 126)

Example 5

Much he the place admired, the person more.

(Milton, Paradise Lost, 9.444)

Example 6

Two massy [massive] keys he bore, of metals twain

(Milton, Lycidas, 110)

Example 7

In Peace the thoughts of War he could remove

(Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, 25)
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YouseeOur hearts
great Lucifercraves (for)that security
This casketunlocks(India's) glowing gems
his lavish tonguebestowswit, brav'ry, worth
headmiredthe place, the person
heboretwo massy [massive] keys
hecould removethe thoughts (of War)