Ah, had I but the strength of my hands,
And could for one hour win out of here,
For one winter hour, then I with this host-!
But around me lie iron bonds,
The fetter's chain rides on me...

Found this in 'A critical history of English literature' by David Daiches.

I can't understand the sentence structure of second, third and fourth line.

Is it just a poetic way of writing in which we arrange the whole sentence differently than standard grammar rule (sub+ verb+Object/complement...or there is still certain grammar rule behind it like Inversion(putting verb before subject) or any other rule?

The second sentence should be written as,in my view, And could win out of here for one hour

I didn't get the meaning of third line and the usage of punctuation marks( exclamation after dash) at all.

In the 4th line, it should be written as But Iron bounds lie around me.

Overal I can't understand why they place sometime 'preposition+ object' at the start of sentence, and things which I have already questioned above. So please tell me how to use it and when to use it.

  • You need to fix the poem's lines.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 15:18
  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because poetry (especially, centuries old poetry) has never been constrained to conform to standard English syntax OR orthography, so there's no point in judging any particular "non-conformant" examples Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 15:30
  • U r right, It is the translation of one of the speeches of Satan from Genesis B, I shouldn't focus on checking and discussing their grammatical correctness.
    – RADS
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 15:50
  • I second @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica. You're not going to learn grammar by reading old poetry. You'd be better off learning grammar through reading essays or fiction and then circling back to poetry to see how unconstrained poetry is. Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 15:54

1 Answer 1


For all its old fashioned and poetic style, this is actually not so far from speech. It would be elevated speech.

Prepositional phrases like "for one hour" and adverbs can move quite freely, to add emphasis.

Tomorrow, I'll play tennis with you. / I will, tomorrow and not today, play tennis with you. /I will, with you, play tennis tomorrow.

All these are acceptable, although some are rather marked and include odd emphasis (with you and only you!). The unmarked sentence is "I will play tennis with you tomorrow."

The same is true about the prepositional phrase "around me". It can move, quite freely. "Around me lie iron bonds. Around me, iron bonds lie. Iron bonds around me lie. Iron bonds lie around me" All are possible, some are more marked with emphasis.

Satan's speech is marked but grammatical.

The dash indicates an interrupt. He is just fantasising about escaping Hell and then he remembers his chains and in the middle of his speech he stops. He interrupts himself. That is a surprise, so the author has also put a !

  • But he said "Around me lies Iron bounds", verb came before the subject.As u have said Prepositional phrases, adjective and adverb phrase can be placed freely for emphasis...but here the verb changed its position...so can the verb also be placed differently for emphasis?
    – RADS
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 4:41

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