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Take My Word!

'Let's You and I' Say It's Just Poetic License

December 02, 1987|THOMAS H. MIDDLETON

Reader Betsy O. Steele of Camarillo has sent a card asking, "Which is correct? 'Let's you and I,' or 'Let's you and me'?"

Ms. Steele's card took me back several years to an argument I had with one of my college classmates about that question. He had come out from New York for a brief vacation, and my wife and I invited him to dinner. He came, bringing with him as a gift a very attractive book called "The Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed" by Karen Elizabeth Gordon (Times Books).

"The Transitive Vampire" is an entertaining sort of introduction to proper usage--cleverly illustrated with old, fanciful, sometimes grotesque, but always appealing woodcuts and etchings. A very enjoyable book and one I'd recommend, especially to anyone looking for a painless introduction to the basics of English grammar.

We call my friend Moose. His real name is Gregory, and I assume that many, or, more likely, most of the people who met him after our college days (Class of '48) call him Greg. But the nicknames of our youth have perhaps more staying power than they deserve, and we who have known him for 40 years and more have clung to Moose. He seems comfortable with it still.

"The Transitive Vampire," under Pronouns, says:

"Let's you and me get together and do away with some of the possibilities.

" You and me are in apposition with 's , which equals us , the object of let ."

Moose is a very bright guy, but he penciled Wrong! in the margin next to Ms. Gordon's "Let's you and me . . . ."

He insisted that it should be "Let's you and I ." I told him I was sure she was right, and I think I even told him what apposition means in regard to syntax. I'm sure he knew perfectly well what it means, so I suppose I was being presumptuous, if not insulting.

Nevertheless, I had trouble getting him to see that You and me is the same as us (in this instance 's and therefore must be in the same grammatical case, the objective. "Let's you and I " has the subjective you and I in apposition to us.

Moose pulled T. S. Eliot on me:

Let us go, then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table. "What do you want?" Moose asked . . .

Let us go, then, you and me,

When the evening is spread out against the skee? I told him that T. S. Eliot could get away with poetic license, and I tried my own version:

Let us go, then, you and me,

When the evening is suspended from a tree

Like a horse thief or a swing put up for children. Less poetic, admittedly, but grammatically impeccable.

A couple of years later, I was reading Peter De Vries' "Slouching Towards Kalamazoo," and I found that he, too, evidently noted Eliot's cavalier treatment of proper grammatical structure. De Vries transforms the opening lines of Prufrock's love song into this outrageous parody:

Leave us go then, me and you,

When the evening is dropped like an old shoe,

The first of what must inevitably be two. Of the three versions--Eliot's, Middleton's and De Vries'--although De Vries' lines are locked happily into my memory, I'll take Eliot's, sloppy grammar and all.

T. S. Eliot obviously had a superb grasp of the rules of English grammar, and I choose to believe that he had J. Alfred Prufrock (whose love song it is, after all) use a grammatical lapse (Let us go, then, you and I) as a prelude to his rather disreputable invitation to go through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells.

Grammar isn't everything, and there are times when the rules of grammar, such as they are, should be broken.

Poets know about that.

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