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Written by John Keats in February 1817, on the blank space of a leaf at the end of Chaucer's "Tale Of The Flowre And The Lefe".

This pleasant tale is like a little copse:
The honeyed lines so freshly interlace,
To keep the reader in so sweet a place,
So that he here and there full-hearted stops;
And oftentimes he feels the dewy drops
Come cool and suddenly against his face,
And, by the wandering melody, may trace
Which way the tender-legged linnet hops.
Oh! what a power has white simplicity!
What mighty power has this gentle story!
I, that do ever feel athirst for glory,
Could at this moment be content to lie
Meekly upon the grass, as those whose sobbings
Were heard of none beside the mournful robins.

Shouldn't it be by?

I, that do ever feel athirst for glory,
Could at this moment be content to lie
Meekly upon the grass, as those whose sobbings
Were heard by none beside the mournful robins.

The robins heard the sobbings.
The sobbings were heard by the robins.

Why is there the preposition of then?

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  • @StoneyB - "I heard of a bank having been robbed". "The robins heard of the sobbings" >>> "The sobbings were heard of by the robins". So we have an elision of by? Or maybe by was not necessary for this idiom? Jan 8, 2016 at 19:59

1 Answer 1

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In Middle English of was the ordinary preposition for indicating the agent of a passive verb or participle. According to OED 1, s.v. Of, V.:

The regular word for this is now By (sense 33), which began to come in c 1400; but of prevailed till c 1600, and is still in literary use, as a biblical, poetic, or stylistic archaism, or by association with other constructions, e.g. 'on the part of'.

Of is still used in this sense with several participial adjectives, such as terrified, frightened, born, forsaken; with adjectives characterizing conduct, such It was kind/stupid/careless/generous of you; in the "subjective genitive" construction, the action of so-and-so; and designating authors and artists of works, the tragedies of Shakespeare.

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