2

Source: Act 1, Scene 3, The Foresters, by Alfred Tennyson

“...if this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...”

1. Does the above mean: why should we make ourselves merry on a birthday because one year has lapsed? If so, why was the objective pronoun us used, and not the reflexive emphatic ourselves?

2. Why write ' we make us merry '?  Why not just:   3. 'we become merry '?

5

Act I, Scene III, The Foresters
Alfred Tennyson (1892)

“...if this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...”

1. Does the above mean: why should we make ourselves merry on a birthday because one year has lapsed?

Yes.

If so, why was the objective pronoun us used, and not the reflexive emphatic ourselves?

Us is the reflexive pronoun.

But not the modern one. Examples of this phrase to make merry are listed in the OED beginning in the 1300s, with earliest uses employing a reflexive pronoun. This date puts us plump in the middle of Middle English (ca 1150-1500).

Beginnng in earlier "Old English" and continuing in Middle English (see this doc file), the reflexive pronoun was the same as the personal pronoun, with -self thrown in on occasion for emphasis.

By early modern English, ca 1600,

The earlier use of the simple objective pronouns me, thee, us, and so on [as reflexive pronouns], became restricted largely to poetic use during the period, as in this example from Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘Take to thee from among the Cherubim Thy choice of flaming Warriours’. Forms in -self (which early had been restricted to emphatic use) now became the usual ones; plurals—with -selves (replacing -self) after plural pronouns—made their appearance in the early sixteenth century [emphasis mine].


2

Why write 'we make us merry'? 

Old lines die hard.

Simple internet searches show that the phrase make us merry continued to be used in both prosaic language and poetic, including plays such as the one you have quoted. These uses include those that retain us as a reflexive pronoun and those that use us as an object pronoun ('come here and make us merry'). The OED attests to the continual usage of the phrase from 1300 to the present.

Therefore:
A. the 700-year (to this date) popularity of "make us merry"
B. Because the author Tennyson wanted to use "make us merry"
C. Because Tennyson wanted to use "make us merry" in order to maintain the meter of his verse (this is poetry, after all, and each line contains a certain amount of syllables)

3

Why not just: 'we become merry'?

D. Because it is as bland as saltless butter (it is not poetic).
E. Because the Merry Men would have risen up in rebellion had Tennyson done so.

Friends,
I am only merry for an hour or two
Upon a birthday: if this life of ours
Be a good glad thing, why should we make us merry
Because a year of it is gone? but Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come
Whispering ‘It will be happier;’ and old faces
Press round us, and warm hands close with warm hands,
And thro’ the blood the wine leaps to the brain
Like April sap to the topmost tree, that shoots
New buds to heaven, whereon the throstle rock’d
Sings a new song to the new year—and you,
Strike up a song, my friends, and then to bed.

Another source of the text

| improve this answer | |
  • "bland as saltless butter" – Good call! Though it's also worth noting that "we become merry" would say nothing about who caused the merriment. "We make us merry" says "we party", rather than "we watch a comedy and laugh". – Tim Pederick Jan 18 '15 at 6:37
  • Interesting side note. In Spanish, this is still accomplished with a reflexive form of the verb, which integrates an object pronoun. Thus the verb "divertirse" means to have fun, but literally it is "to divert oneself". It is conjugated like this "me divertí" (I had fun) "nos divertimos" (we had fun) etc. there are many reflexive verbs jn Spanish, even for actions we don't think of as such: "lavense las manos" (wash your hands) – Brian Hitchcock Jan 19 '15 at 5:38
  • Sí, the old: I'm washing myself the hands. – user6951 Jan 19 '15 at 6:00
  • +1. Thank you effusively for your support. Would you mind enlarging on E? This sounds like a literary joke? I don't understand the allusion to Merry Men and rebellion? – Accounting Jan 30 '15 at 22:33
  • Yes, tis a joke. The Merry Men who accompany Robin Hood--they would be upset and rise up in revolt against an author who chose such a poor expression as 'we became merry'. It is poor because it is not poetic. – user6951 Jan 30 '15 at 22:39
-1

Yes, that is what it means. "Ourselves" is indeed the correct pronoun, but in poetry, the rules of grammar are often bent. Normally, "ourselves" should be used.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.