I thought of you as everything I've had but could not keep

Lou Reed: Pale Blue Eyes

why could not keep?" Have had" means that he lost his girl very recently, it refers to the present or a very very recent past, and could not keep refers to the past.

Which action happens first? The one in past simple logically, so that means he could not keep the girl but was still thinking he could have kept her, !! why not had had or does it express that once he broke up with her he was still thinking that she was everything for him.

1 Answer 1


Great song!

Everything I've had does not refer to a girl that he had recently. It refers to all the things he has had in his lifetime -- but could not keep. It is purposely vague and poetic. What is something that a person can have but cannot keep? Happiness is one thing that comes to mind. One might feel happiness in fleeting moments, but it always escapes after a period of time. So this seems to be Lou Reed's way of saying that she reminds him of fleeting things in life, like happiness.

The lyrics mean: Everything that I have had but that I could not keep.

Have had is present-perfect tense, implying something that occurred over a period of time. Could not keep is past tense, implying a single moment in time when the action occurred. So he was able to have or keep something for a period of time, but then at some point he could not keep it anymore.

  • 1
    "I've thought of you as ..." would have been more logical and wouldn't have hurt the prosody, but the musical genius has had his last word.
    – amI
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 4:53
  • Thanks for the answer , but you don't answer to my question why could?
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 5:00
  • I tried to improve my answer to address your question better.
    – Ringo
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 5:19
  • but past simple should happen first, past is always before than recent past you can't say for example "I have had my camera for 6 six weeks and I sold it yesterday so both setences are very similar why one is possible and not the other
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 6:10
  • Well, now that I read more about "could" versus "can," I see that there are many subtleties of usage. Check out this page: blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/07/01/can-or-could Under #2, there is a usage of "could" in the present tense: blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/07/01/can-or-could It reads: "We use could to talk about less definite aspects of possibility or suggested options, either now or in the future." This may be the actual answer to your question.
    – Ringo
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 9:25

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