[Milton-L] regularizing the meter

Carl Bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Wed Mar 17 17:22:12 EDT 2010


While I'm putting together my own 2 or 3 cents, I will place on the table of 
this inviting smorgasbord a pair of statements whose common message 
describes the historical context which for better or worse presses (or 
should do) on all our discussions of English prosody generally, or Milton's 
in PL specifically.

First, from Weismiller's essay on Milton's prosody in the Variorum to 
Paradise Regained:

"Analysts of verse form in English--many of whom have themselves been
poets of some distinction--have been (variously) responsive, acute, learned,
and articulate. And still their writings contradict one another hopelessly."

That's the good news. Here's the bad news. This is in the intro. to T. V. F. 
Brogan's  magisterial annotated bibliography referencing essentially all 
published discussions on Eng prosody (over four centuries worth). From 
_English Versification, 1570-1980, A Reference Guide_:

The study of versification is "... a field which in historical terms has
been (it is not too extreme to say) a great mass of ignorance, confusion,
superficial thinking, category mistakes, argument by spurious analogy,
persuasive definitions, and gross abuses of both concepts and terms...
[I]n studies of the structure of verse the use of terms such as poetry,
verse, accent, quantity, Numbers, Measure, rhythm, meter, prosody,
versification, onomatopoeia, and rhyme/rime/ryme,  historically and
consistently has been nothing short of Pandemonium. It was so in 1580 and it
remains so in 1980."

Unless you find "ground zero" a refreshing or exhilarating place to be, this 
is a "dismal situation," a bleak backdrop to discussions of metrics. But I 
think one thing we might do to mollify the situation is often to state the 
starting assumptions that lie behind specific prosodic observations. As for 
example, in John Leonard's recent post: "Milton's verse establishes a 
sufficient norm to create expectations (and so occasional departures from 
colloquial pronunciations)."

Cheers,
Carl

[ Prof. Brogan has generously placed the entire tome online in a fully 
indexed, multi-chapter PDF format. I hope the link is still good:
http://www.arsversificandi.net/resources/evrg/readme.html ]





----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Leonard" <jleonard at uwo.ca>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:22 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] regularizing the meter


> The trouble with taking Bridges as a guide is that he is inconsistent.  He 
> notoriously declared that some of Milton's lines should be scanned one way 
> and read another (I think that he said that in reference to the line 
> "Shoots invisible virtue even to the deep", which he scans as follows:
>
> "Shoots in / visi / ble ver / tue even to / the deep" (where the italics 
> in the fourth foot indicate elision).
>
> Creaser calls this "an intolerable tongue-twister."  Of course Bridges did 
> not read it that way (hence the notorious remark about scanning not 
> coinciding with reading).  Someone (I think it may have been Masson) 
> scanned this line with two initial anapaests before falling into iambic 
> regularity (better than Bridges's version in my view).
>
> For me, the argument becomes interesting when "iambic" regularity exerts a 
> force upon particular words sufficient to impose what Capel Lofft in 1792 
> called "a more solemn and peculiar pronunciation", as in "Which of us who 
> beholds the bright surFACE / Of this ethereous mould" or "Beyond all past 
> example and futURE".  Creaser rejects these scansions and takes Fowler and 
> me to task for advocating them.  Much as I admire Creaser's work on 
> prosody, this is the place where he and I part company.  I like "solemn 
> and peculiar pronunciations" and think that they are an integral part of 
> Milton's "apt Numbers" and "fit Quantity."  So I guess that puts me in a 
> middle position between Richard Strier and John Creaser.  Bridges's system 
> is a procrustean bed, but I do agree that Milton's verse establishes a 
> sufficient norm to create expectations (and so occasional departures from 
> colloquial pronunciations).
>
>
>
> John Leonard
>
>
>
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "richard strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 8:47 PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] regularizing the meter
>
>
>> John R has now come round to regularity.  I think that WHEN word stress 
>> is
>> negotiable, as it is with a name like Tiresias (not a standard English 
>> word), foot
>> divisions take precedence. The maxim about regularizing whenever possible 
>> is
>> very important, I think.  I do not buy the notion that Milton's metrics 
>> can't be
>> handled in the normal way.  And I don't see where Marvell suggests that 
>> it can't.
>> There are lots of daring metrists in the English Renaissance -- both 
>> Donne and
>> Jonson, for instance (despite J's disdain for D's supposed 
>> incompetence --  and I
>> don't see that we need a whole different system for JM.  But the 
>> important point
>> really is the Bridges one.
>>
>> ---- Original message ----
>>>Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2010 19:06:02 -0400
>>>From: John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca>
>>>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] regularizing the meter
>>>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>>>
>>>
>>>Richard Strier (whose opinions I always respect) writes:
>>>
>>>
>>>> If we scan "and TI res IAS and PHIN eus PRO phets OLD" we get a perfect
>>>> iambic
>>>> line.
>>>>
>>>> Bridges's dictum, quoted by John Rumrich is certainly right.
>>>>
>>>
>>>But John (Rumrich), agreeing with John (Creaser), also acknowledged that
>>>"'res' is more strongly accented than
>>> 'Ti' within the word 'Tiresias.'"
>>>
>>>Sooooo . . .
>>>
>>>How can we have "Ti res IAS" when (as both Johns, and now this one too) 
>>>hear
>>>"Ti RES ias" (albeit only "within the word")?  The question is: which has
>>>priority: "the word" or "the foot"?  John Creaser has argued that the 
>>>very
>>>notion of "the foot" is misleading as a guide to Milton's prosody, and he
>>>might have Marvell on his side.  I have sometimes wondered whether 
>>>Marvell's
>>>tribute to Milton's blank verse--
>>>
>>>        Thou singst with so much gravity and ease;
>>>        And above human flight dost soar aloft
>>>        With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft.
>>>        The bird named from that Paradise you sing
>>>        So never flags, but always keeps on wing--
>>>
>>>might not involve a witty pun on the "feet" that birds of Paradise were
>>>supposed not to have (they are imagined to be constantly flying).  Many
>>>early critics expressed scepticism about the very notion of "the foot" as 
>>>an
>>>integral unit of  Milton's blank verse, and it is undeniable that many
>>>would-be prosodists have put a foot in their mouth when trying to explain
>>>Milton's prosody.
>>>
>>>John Leonard
>>>
>>>
>>>
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