When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Should "When" not be there, because "once" itself will be able to lead a subordinate clause?

Should there be "on" between "walk" and "the earth"?

Should "there" be "where" instead, so "where you have been, and where you will always long to return" becomes the object of prep. "for"?


Briefly, no.

I have been unable to locate the original of this translation, or its date; but it is written in a fairly old-fashioned formal register in which the use of once to mean “when once”, “when for the first time” would be jarringly colloquial.

Walk the earth (the roads, the fields, &c) is an old but not entirely obsolete expression in which the sense is “walk about in/on”. We still say “when dinosaurs roamed the earth”.

For here is not the preposition but the conjuction, meaning “because”—“because you have been there and you will always long to return there.“

It appears virtually certain that this “quotation” is a 20th-century invention. Nobody has been able to locate it in any of Leonardo’s known writings, and it is certainly not in the Flight of Birds codex to which it is sometimes attributed. For details of one search see Wikiquote.

  • Unless I'm much mistaken, Leonardo never actually achieved flight. He made some drawings, but in fact I think they could never have worked (a human cannot generate enough power for his ideas). So he would hardly be likely to wax lyrical about how "addictive" such flight was. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 6 '14 at 22:51
  • @FumbleFingers Yah, that's why I went out and looked it up. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 7 '14 at 2:09

It's non-standard / archaic / poetic usage to start such a sentence with the (optional) word once. As in...

Once bitten, twice shy.

Equally, walk the earth is somewhat "poetic", but it's still perfectly current to say, for example,...

I've been out walking the streets all afternoon, looking for my lost cat.

As to the third point, there is perfectly valid. But note that again it's stylised/poetic. Idiomatically, native speakers would normally say...

...you will always long to return there

TL;DR: It's all grammatically "valid", but don't copy any of it. People will think you're a bad Victorian poet!

  • (1) I don't understand "when once", but I think either one alone will be right. (2) I don't understand the last one, what is the part of speech of "for" then? A prep. or conj.? – Tim Mar 6 '14 at 22:34
  • @Tim: Are you a native speaker, and if so have you read much poetry from a century or two ago? That makes a difference. Note that I have practically no interest whatsoever in labelling things as "prep. or conj." - I'm a perfectly competent speaker, and I've never needed to care about such things. I don't think they're very useful concepts. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 6 '14 at 22:37
  • No and no. The one in bold. – Tim Mar 6 '14 at 22:40
  • (sorry - you mean for in your text. I see StoneyB has just answered that). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 6 '14 at 22:45

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