Hyberbaton – to rhyme with Surbiton

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Over the past few days I have heard those words many times, and in all but one of those occasions it was recited incorrectly. In the first line the words “grow” and “not” were reversed.

It’s called Hyperbaton – pronounced to rhyme with Surbiton. Words the order of monkeying around with it is. Yoda-speak. It’s done to grab your attention. Laurence Binyon did it with that first phrase.

You may think “They shall not grow old” sounds better, and you are entitled to your opinion, but it’s not what Binyon wrote. I think I would have preferred “remain” or even “abide” instead of “are left”, but it’s not what Binyon wrote (actually, surely he was indirectly glorifying the dead by prosaically classifying the living as the left-overs). “At sunset and dawn” would unquestionably have been snappier than “At the going down of the sun and in the morning”, but it’s not what Binyon wrote.

As this season of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I recedes, so will recitals of that verse from For the Fallen. So we await November and Armistice Day for the next flurry of its outings. Do you suppose we can try very hard to get it right?

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