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Second stanza of The Convergence of the Twain by Thomas Hardy:

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

Can 'late' be used as a preposition and what does it mean in the above lines?

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  • Late can be short for lately.
    – Davo
    Sep 8, 2020 at 16:47
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    I take it to refer to the ship's boilers, formerly containing fire but now full of water. Sep 8, 2020 at 16:49
  • Good question, Soyuz42! And thanks for pointing out a wonderful poem I had never read. I'm sure Kate Bunting is right: Not long ago they were the boilers. Sep 8, 2020 at 19:55
  • The word shown as "third" in the quotation, is "thrid" in the poem, meaning "thread". Sep 8, 2020 at 19:56
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    @JackO'Flaherty Fixed (although it is quoted this way in Backpack Literature, the book I'm reading).
    – Soyuz42
    Sep 9, 2020 at 17:07

1 Answer 1

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It is not a preposition. Prepositions are used to indicate relation between two (or more) separate objects; here the pyres and the steel chambers are the same objects (However, "of" is a preposition, showing relationship between the pyres/steel chambers and the fires, which are separate objects, with the former containing the latter).

I would argue it is an adverb, modifying an omitted and implied verb "were", with "late" being used in a manner equivalent to "formerly" (See adverb definition 3 here: https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/late). I'd argue a less poetical equivalent sentence would be:

Steel chambers, (which were) formerly the pyres/ Of her salamander-like fires/ pass through cold currents, and become rhythmic tidal musical instruments

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