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November 29, 2012 7:29 AM   Subscribe

From a famous poem by Elizabeth Bishop.;....Even losing you,(the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing 's not too hard to master though it may look like(Write it!) like disaster. The question is, what's the difference between " I shall never lie." and"I shan't have lied."??
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I shan't have lied" = "I shall not have lied." The difference, I suppose, would be that "I shan't have lied" suggests the speaker will not have lied on one particular occasion in the past, not that she will never lie in the future.
posted by munyeca at 7:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I shan't have lied" describes a future past action (Future Anterior?), 'I shall not have lied', where "I shall never lie" simply describes a future action.

Or were you looking for something beyond that?

Excellent poem, BTW. First class villanelle.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:46 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume "shan't" is a contraction of "shall not" implying something already said will not be revealed to be a lie even if the author loses you. Not that the author will not lie in the future.
posted by mzurer at 7:46 AM on November 29, 2012


Agreeing with the above - I would interpret "I shan't have lied" as "I shall not have lied" meaning:

Even under these anticipated circumstances, I will not have been lying.

The "not lying" applies only to the specific circumstances of this one condition, the author is not asserting she will never lie under any circumstances.
posted by nanojath at 7:49 AM on November 29, 2012


I think this is an example of future perfect tense?
posted by nanojath at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have always thought that "One Art" was about practicing for future loss by reviewing past losses; the narrator has survived so far, and will continue to survive when s/he loses the one s/he loves.

"—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster."

The narrator is anticipating losing this love. When this happens the narrator will, as always, maintain that loss can be mastered in the long term ("I shan't have lied") even if it feels like disaster as it's happening.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:02 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


(I believe you're right, nanojath.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:04 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I will have erred if I continued to call it 'Future Anterior', and not 'Future Perfect'.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Simple grammatical explanation first; the poem is using it in a little more complex way, but understanding the different verb forms helps.

Imagine a time line with three times. Let's use years.

Present: 2012

Two future years: 2015, 2020.

Now, if you say, "I shall never lie," that means no lies in 2012, 2013, 2030, 2067 -- any time after now, there will be no lie told by me, ever, into the infinite future.

If you say, "In 2015, I shan't have lied," that means no lies 2012-2015. However, you might still tell a lie after that, in 2020. It referrs only to times from the present until the time referenced. There's always a time referenced with this verb construction.


==> I shan't have lied (in 2015)

|-----2012------2015--*--*-2020----*-eternity----| * = possible lie


==> I shall never lie

|-----2012------2015-------2020------eternity----| (no lies in the entire timeline)


===== in the poem =====

Please forgive me if you already understand what follows. I'm assuming that you're having difficulty understanding this part of the poem, which prompted your grammar question. So here's a little more information:

The difference between "I shall never lie" and "I shan't have lied" isn't that crucial to understanding the poem. What is important is understanding why she's talking about lying in the first place.

If losing "you" (the person to whom the poem is written) is a disaster that destroyed my (as the poem's writer) life, them my assertion that "The art of losing isn't hard to master" would be a lie. So, if it's a disaster when you die or leave, my assertion's disproven - what I said would have been false, and I'll have lied.

However, what I'm saying here is that you die or leave, it won't be a disaster, so I won't have lied. I shan't have lied. (won't = shan't).

===== why use future perfect here? =====

So, you may wonder why the construction "shan't have lied" was used in the poem instead of "shan't lie". It's because the poet is focusing emotionally on a particular time in the future, the date the addressee -- "you" -- dies or leaves.

I said above that there's always a time referenced with this verb construction. In this case, that's given by the phrase "Even losing you". The following clause "I shan't have lied" demands a date reference; Since no other time reference is given, we know that "Even losing you" must be that time reference. What the writer means is that even the event of losing "you" will not change the truth of her primary assertion.

The construction makes the reader focus on the idea of losing "you" more than on the idea of whether the writer is being truthful or not.
posted by amtho at 8:16 AM on November 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


The construction makes the reader focus on the idea of losing "you" more than on the idea of whether the writer is being truthful or not.

Spot on. The misdirection of attention to "losing you" as a way of not dealing with the need to construct a strictly-true-but-still-untruthful narrative about coping with loss.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:44 AM on November 30, 2012


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