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"lay me down" in "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2023 12:24 am
by kyobancha
If you are familiar with the music scene of the 1970's, you will remember Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970), in which the next lines are repeated several times.

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When I first listened to the song on the radio, I was puzzled with the last line "I will lay me down." It seemed to me that this should be rendered as "I will lie down."

Later I learned about "poetic license," by which poets are allowed to depart from conventional grammatical rules in order to produce literary effect. In the instance above, the song needs five syllables in the last line. "I will lie down," which is short of one syllable, will not fit here.

I also learned that the expression "lay me down" appears in the Bible. In Psalms 4:8 in the King James Version, for instance, we find "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep:" Yet I believe this sounds archaic. The phrasing in the Revised Standard Version is "In peace I will both lie down and sleep;"

I have always wondered how English speakers would react to this lyric. Doesn't the archaism of this expression bother you?

Re: "lay me down" in "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2023 1:09 am
by Joe
To answer your direct question first, the “archaism” of “lay me down” is its charm. It certainly doesn’t bother me and I have never heard any other native speaker complain about it :)

Yes, correctly we lie down and we lay something or someone down:

But that “someone” could be ourself. In which case, because we are doing something to ourself, we use a reflexive pronoun:
I cut myself.
He shot himself.
Sit yourself down.
I will lay myself down.

So the real question is why doesn’t the KJV use a reflexive pronoun :) But the language of the KJV is charming and will NEVER be topped by the RSV.

Re: "lay me down" in "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2023 1:28 am
by kyobancha
Thank you, Joe, for your prompt reply. Your comment that "the 'archaism' of 'lay me down' is its charm" has solved what has been puzzling over the years. Now I can listen to Simon & Garfunkel comfortably.

Incidentally as I was reading Mark Twain's _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ yesterday, I came across the phrasing "I lay me down." In Chapter IX, Tom and Huckleberry go out in the graveyard at night. In the dark they see some strange figures coming toward them. The two boys think they are devils, and Huckleberry asks Tom to pray:

"Can you pray?"
"I'll try, but don't you be afeard. They ain't going to hurt us. Now I lay me down to sleep, I--"

It looks Tom has learned this part of the Psalm in Sunday school.

Thank you again for your help.

Re: "lay me down" in "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2023 1:35 am
by Joe
Thank you


My pleasure