'Merry of soul'

I came across that phrase in a song called 'skye boat song', I have also learned that it's a quote from one of Stevenson's poems.

I understand that merry is an adjecctive that means happy ,and in all honesty that line sounds really beautiful to my ear, but isn't it wrong to say happy of soul shouldn't it be for instance with happiness of soul , with a happy spirit or happy in soul?

The whole stanza

'Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,

Say, could that lad be I?

Merry of soul he sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye.'

Note1: I replaced merry with happy when giving examples because Im not used to using the word merry thus it's still a bit weird for me to use it.

Note2: I have already asked that question before on English Language And Usage Stack but for some reason the question was put on hold as off-topic. I think maybe because it is easy and should have been asked here so you will find me copying others comments from there thus seeming to answer my own question.

  • 1
    Hi Manar. As a general rule, poems and musical lyrics do not always adhere to the rules of grammar. Sometimes authors break those rules simply for the sake of the artistic quality of the piece. I'm not sure whether that is the case here, but you should keep it in mind in general.
    – Tashus
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 19:53
  • 1
    Also, if you agree that your question belongs here rather than at ELU, you should delete it from ELU. Cross posting is frowned upon. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:10
  • 3
    I would like to dispel this notion that poems generally break the rules of grammar. In general, they don't. If anything, they rely heavily upon them.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:15
  • First, this is a Scottish song used as the theme song for the TV series Outlander. Second, these forms are very old in English. Mostly poetic.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 15:01
  • Here is the reference to the Skye Boat Song: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Skye_Boat_Song
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 15:18

2 Answers 2


From comments on a (now-deleted) similar question on ELU:

[Adjective] of [body part or personal attribute] e.g. fleet of foot, sharp of eye, long of leg, white of beard, etc all correct but old fashioned bordering on archaic. – Michael Harvey

You've certainly seen similar expressions such as "light of heart" or "fair in complexion"? The above usage is not idiomatic for everyday speech/writing, but it's valid syntax. – Hot Licks


I see two different questions in your post:

  1. Shouldn't the poet use happy instead of merry?
  2. Is the (adjective) of (noun) thing proper English writing?

So I would answer:

  1. No, if they signify the same thing and they are both adjectives, then they're equally correct.

    Also, happy used to signify lucky. I'm not sure when it changed, but it may have been preferable to say "merry" in a traditional form art (hard to tell when it changed since fortune tends to go with happiness). Consider to hap upon (meet by chance), by pure happenstance (just by luck), and hapless (without luck). Happy as a clam doesn't carry English folk wisdom about content mollusks, but is a shortening of happy as a clam in mud at high tide. (Far less likely to be eaten, given the circumstances.)

And then:

  1. With and of can be used to signify possessing attributes now, but it's not obvious they always did. Without, within, whither... these have to do with location. And it with tends to mean location still. Are you with him? In an era when soul might have stood for person, you have to avoid the potential confusion that you're referring to merry company.
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    That makes alot of sense! Thanks. But I didn't mean to ask about question(1)anyway I added another note in my question to not cause any confusion again.
    – Manar
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 14:09

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