I am reminded of the 1998 impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton, when in his grand jury testimony he was asked to explain how he responded to his aides asking him if he was having an affair with Monica Lewinski. He told his aides, straight-faced, “There IS nothing going on between us.”
Attempting to explain the above response, Clinton told the grand jury, again, straight faced, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the..if he…if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.”
He confused everyone enough with that answer, that the impeachment failed.
The question for today is: In Fenn’s Poem, what does “it” mean?
(I’ve added the complete definition of the word “it” at the bottom of this post.)
It (the pronoun “it”) is used five times in Fenn’s treasure poem in five different lines:
- Begin it where warm waters halt
- And take it in the canyon down,
- From there it’s no place for the meek,
- So why is it that I must go
- I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
The easiest and safest assumption we can make is Fenn used the single syllable word as a substitute for multiple syllable words (or phrases) that would not sustain the rhythm of the poem.
Begin your journey where warm waters halt
And take the narrow pathway in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
…while more descriptive, has lost all it’s rhythm be the middle of the second line.
Two of the its (of the five) are relatively easy to work out with confidence:
3. From there (the location you find yourself) is no place for the meek,
4. So why is (this point in my life important enough) that I must go
[And leave my trove for all to seek?]
The conundrums are its 1., 2., and 5. But, I feel like the three are intimately related. What makes 1., 2., and 5. so difficult, is that there’s no reference point, before or after them. For the word “it” to be effective as a subject or an object, there has to be a reference before or after. See the examples below in the definition of it at the bottom of this post.
Let’s start with the obvious (at least to me).
1. Begin (your adventure) where warm waters halt
2. And take (your adventure) in the canyon down,
5. I’ve done (my adventure) tired, and now I’m weak.
I have a hard time buying into varying the three, such as:
1. Begin (your hunt for the treasure) where warm waters halt
2. And take (your excitement at being outdoors) in the canyon down,
5. I’ve done (all this writing) tired, and now I’m weak.
I’m not saying that the reference to my and his adventure are correct. You can replace them with any word or phrase you think is appropriate for your search solutions.
But, I AM suggesting that it’s the same word or phrase in all three lines.
1. used to refer to a thing previously mentioned or easily identified (a room with two beds in it), referring to an animal or child of unspecified sex (she was holding the baby, cradling it and smiling into its face), referring to a fact or situation previously mentioned, known or happening (stop it, you’re hurting me)
2. used to identify a person (it is me)
3. used in the normal subject position in statements about time, distance or weather (it is half past five)
4. used in the normal subject or object position when a more specific subject or object is given later in the sentence (it is impossible to assess the problem)
5. used to emphasize a following part of a sentence (it is the child who is the victim)
6. the situation or circumstances; things in general (no one can stay here – it’s too dangerous now)
7. exactly what is needed or desired (they thought they were it)
8. informal, sex appeal (he’s still got it) sexual intercourse (they were doing it)
9. informal, denoting a person or thing that is exceptionally fashionable, popular or successful at a particular time (they were Hollywood’s it couple)
10. (in children’s games) the player who has to catch the others