From you have I been [A] absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress'd in all his trim
Hath put [A’] a spirit of youth in every thing
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd [B] with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue
Could make me any summer's story tell.
Or from their proud lap pluck them while they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight;
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
(Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p.132; Sonnet 98, William Shakespeare)

The present perfect ([A] and [A’]) seems not refer to the past Reference Time [B]. I guess the present perfects are selected to say the gloomy away from you has lasted till now. Is this right?

closed as off-topic by StoneyB, Walter, hjpotter92, Renan, Persian Cat Jul 30 '13 at 14:46

  • This question does not appear to be about learning the English language within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    The question concerns an EME use which is no longer current. I recommend migration to ELU. – StoneyB Jul 25 '13 at 22:13
  • @StoneyB I checked with ELU mods and migration has been denied. – WendiKidd Jul 26 '13 at 0:46
  • Do not try to infer modern English usage from William Shakespeare. 'Twill not serve thee well. – Matt Jul 26 '13 at 18:49

This reflects usage at a time before the line between past and present perfect was as clearly drawn as it is now in formal usage. Shakespeare employs the present perfect intially to portray what he is telling as a present memory, before moving into the past for the rest.

In fact, this kind of movement from perfect into past is still very frequently encountered in colloquial registers:

I've been in Washington in the springtime, when the cherries were blooming, and it was a very pretty sight.

Even in formal usage it would be acceptable if only the first, opening verb were in the present perfect, and not the verb at the start of the second line. But today we would ordinarily cast all of these in the simple past.

  • 2
    Might there also be a general truth as well, that poets don't always follow strict grammatical rules, but instead bend them to fit for the sake of rhythm and rhyme? Some of the most egregious examples off the top of my head come from some of old hymns, like, "He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!" (I often cringed at that awful wording, but I suppose Ackley wanted to force the rhyme with heart in the next line.) – J.R. Jul 26 '13 at 8:55

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