[Milton-L] Let me not

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Sun Mar 21 16:11:36 EDT 2010


Julia,

How could rules be the point of meter? The purpose of meter is to create
recurrent rhythmic patterns that are related to the natural sound-patterns
of language but slightly stylized or formalized. The only point of
discussing rules is to clarify how the poets have gone about that. I have
been describing rules (conventional practices) only because some here seem
to doubt that there are any, I think we need to understand the range of
variation that poets have allowed themselves and the limits to variation
they have imposed on themselves. Of course one might acquire that
understanding implicitly simply by reading aloud and memorizing poetry,
which is how the convention was transmitted from, say, Spenser to Yeats.
However, faulty theoretical schemes learned from prose treatises might
interfere with that acquisition. We find in the current threads wildly
differing ideas about how meter does or does not relate to the actual sound
of lines.

Michael

On Sun, Mar 21, 2010 at 2:20 PM, Julia Guernsey-Pitchford <shaw at ulm.edu>wrote:

> I agree with Louis Schwartz--at least in the general theory.  We miss
> opportunity to read prosody (meter and sometimes rhyme or alliteration or
> other effects) interpretatively as often as such readings might be
> profitable, I think.  Yes, it can be overdone, but I've gone so far in one
> context (a study of Herbert) as to push a reading of prosody to the level of
> treating form as a second persona or "subject" in The Temple, and through
> risking that level of subjectivity in my theory of form (if that's what we
> want to say about it) I got places with Herbert that I might have missed
> otherwise--valid places, I believe.
>
> The study itself is old, unread and much beside the point here.  I want to
> raise some questions.  Why can't "first dis"[obedience] be read as a spondee
> and as disobedient to the general rule of iambic pentameter if it furthers a
> specific agenda in reading Milton.  It may be a very minor point, but in the
> context of a larger reading, it might work.  There might be dozens of other
> minor points like it and a few major ones that make it valid.
>
> Is it really too early in the poem for departures from meter to stand out?
> I'd say just the opposite--it's too early for departures from the meter not
> to stand out.  Why else have we spent so much time on "Let me not to the
> marriage of true minds?"
>
> And what's wrong with a tertiary system of scansion?  Counting stress,
> unstress and something in between gets at a phenomenon I think many of us
> experience.  It's partly based on the significance of the phoneme as
> morpheme (is that the right terminology?) but that's partly because there's
> inherently less stress on syllables that carry no meaning "ed" or "ing" than
> on those which do (verbs, nouns).
>
> One final question.  Are the rules really the point of meter?  As a
> would-have-been formalist poet/MFA who turned critic I never felt like the
> point of form was to follow rules or even to reflect tradition (though there
> was a bit of traditionalism in it).  Meter was part of the affect and other
> nonverbalizable meanings that drove the poem; the words were a lot less
> important than the rhythms at one level.
>
> At risk of babbling, I end here.
>
> Julia Guernsey Pitchford
>
>
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Louis Schwartz" <lschwart at richmond.edu>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Sunday, March 21, 2010 11:23:22 AM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central
> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Let me not
>
>  Richard Strier wrote:
>
>
>
> *"I'm not sure that I understand what meter producing "a patently
> wrong-headed *
>
> *or spurious meaning" means.  Meter, as I understand it, should NOT be *
>
> *determined by meaning.  The fact that a word is semantically important
> does *
>
> *not mean that it should necessarily be considered a metrically stressed
> syllable.  *
>
> *Meter is an abstract system, a way, as I said, of "seeing as."  The way
> that it is *
>
> *most useful in relation to meaning is as an INDEPENDENT variable. That
> way, it *
>
> *might show us new ways of reading lines.  If it depends on meaning, it
> is:  1) not *
>
> *a system; and 2) just enforcing things that we think we already know. *
>
> * *
>
> *To push the point a little further:  1) I think that the metrical
> ambiguity in the *
>
> *second foot of the first line of PL (either an iamb or a spondee,
> depending on *
>
> *how one treats "first") has nothing at all to do us "enacting"
> disobedience or *
>
> *anything of the sort (both readings are metrically acceptable,
> "obedient").  The *
>
> *rest of the line seems perfectly iambic to me (treating "disobedience" as
> 4 syll's  *
>
> *["ience" as 1]).  To illustrate in a small way the advantage of the
> independent *
>
> *variable view, I would say that to treat this line as perfectly iambic
> throughout *
>
> *allows for the first syllable of "disobedience" really to come into
> prominence -- *
>
> *not a bad result, though not, certainly, conclusive."*
>
>
>
> I was being a little facetious in my reading of the second foot of the
> line, and I agree with what Richard says, above about how important it is to
> see meter as an “independent variable.”  The reason, however, that a
> spondaic or even a trochaic reading of this particular foot doesn’t suggest
> “disobedience” to metrical convention is because it’s too conventional a
> variation, too much a part of conventional expectation to be really
> disruptive.   It’s even too early in the poem to have an effect on a
> reader’s expectations of an iambic rhythm.  The syllable count on
> “disobedience” is slightly different.  If you insist on 5 syllables, you
> make the line more clearly irregular, and there is something of a
> disobedience in that.  If it’s there at all, that’s a small instance of a
> metical choice that seems analogous to the semantic level of the line—not to
> mention a major theme of the work.  It’s a very small instance when you
> consider how easily the elision comes to most speakers of English, and how
> conventional it is, too.  There are better instances of this sort of thing
> in the poem (metrical dynamics reflecting sense).  It’s not that meter in
> itself means anything, but I agree with Hollander that the dynamics of a
> meter (how the lines have been composed and how a reader can and cannot
> realize particular performances) can take on or suggest certain meanings in
> particular poems or particular lines of poems.
>
>
>
> Hollander’s comments on the enjambment of the line concern, among other
> things, the way its syllabic symmetry (3 monosyllables, a four syllable
> word, then 3 more monosyllables) and its meter are part of what holds the
> line together centripetally, while the force of the syntax moves it forward
> beyond its end boundary.  That tension or overlapping of systems (line and
> syntax) is at work all over the epic and creates a whole catalogue of
> effects, many of them with semantic implications.  His comments—and those on
> meter and rhyme elsewhere in that book are well worth checking out—or
> revisiting.  He draws a lot of his instances from Milton.
>
>
>
> Best,
>
>
>
> Louis
>
>
>
>
>
> ===========================
>
> Louis Schwartz
>
> Associate Professor of English
>
> English Department
>
> University of Richmond
>
> 28 Westhampton Way
>
> Richmond, VA  23173
>
> (804) 289-8315
>
> lschwart at richmond.edu
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of richard strier
> Sent: Friday, March 19, 2010 12:48 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Let me not
>
>
>
> Again, I think Gillum is right.  # 1 is certainly the version that makes
> most
>
> metrical sense.
>
>
>
> I'm not sure that I understand what meter producing "a patently
> wrong-headed
>
> or spurious meaning" means.  Meter, as I understand it, should NOT be
>
> determined by meaning.  The fact that a word is semantically important does
>
>
> not mean that it should necessarily be considered a metrically stressed
> syllable.
>
> Meter is an abstract system, a way, as I said, of "seeing as."  The way
> that it is
>
> most useful in relation to meaning is as an INDEPENDENT variable. That way,
> it
>
> might show us new ways of reading lines.  If it depends on meaning, it is:
> 1) not
>
> a system; and 2) just enforcing things that we think we already know.
>
>
>
> To push the point a little further:  1) I think that the metrical ambiguity
> in the
>
> second foot of the first line of PL (either an iamb or a spondee, depending
> on
>
> how one treats "first") has nothing at all to do us "enacting" disobedience
> or
>
> anything of the sort (both readings are metrically acceptable,
> "obedient").  The
>
> rest of the line seems perfectly iambic to me (treating "disobedience" as 4
> syll's
>
> ["ience" as 1]).  To illustrate in a small way the advantage of the
> independent
>
> variable view, I would say that to treat this line as perfectly iambic
> throughout
>
> allows for the first syllable of "disobedience" really to come into
> prominence --
>
> not a bad result, though not, certainly, conclusive.
>
>
>
> 2) I think that Vendler's treatment of the 1st line of 116 is driven by her
> general
>
> view of Sh's sonnets and her general theory of poetry rather than by
> metrical
>
> considerations.
>
>
>
>
>
> ---- Original message ----
>
> >Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2010 10:32:34 -0400
>
> >From: Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>
>
> >Subject: Re: [Milton-L] performance, meter, and open choices
>
> >To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>
> >
>
> >   1. LET me NOT to the MARriage (unorthodox double
>
> >   trochee or 1-3-6)
>
> >   2. Let ME NOT to the MARriage (unorthodox
>
> >   2nd-position trochee & something else is wrong)
>
> >   3. Let me NOT to the MARriage (nursery-rhyme
>
> >   4-beat, unmetrical in IP)
>
> >   4. Let ME not TO the MARriage (not English)
>
> >   Carl,  Vendler is correct that attributing
>
> >   metrical/rhetorical stress to "me" changes the
>
> >   meaning of the poem, but there is something wrong
>
> >   with the second option linguistically in that it
>
> >   somehow detaches "not" from "let" and
>
> >   inappropriately connects "not" with the following
>
> >   prepositional phrase. I guess metrically it is
>
> >   caused by the felt need to get some space between
>
> >   adjacent beat-realizing syllables--what Attridge
>
> >   calls an "implied offbeat." So to me #1 seems the
>
> >   best metrical scansion or performance.
>
> >   I'm really enjoying this discussion too. Thanks to
>
> >   all.
>
> >   Michael
>
> >
>
> >   On Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 5:54 AM, Carl Bellinger
>
> >   <bcarlb at comcast.net> wrote:
>
> >
>
> >     Sincere thanks to all contributors across this
>
> >     rich discussion. I'm grateful and humbled.  And
>
> >     can't keep up. What a generous, learned, careful,
>
> >     acute, comprehensive, honest, patient, cordial,
>
> >     jolly good show!
>
> >      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
>
> >
>
> >         "Meter CAN be a guide to performance, but
>
> >     needn't be"  says Prof. Strier.
>
> >
>
> >          I think I must be misunderstanding this
>
> >     and other opinions which seem to hold that we may
>
> >     treat certain, not unimportant functions of
>
> >     prosody & performance 'any which way' we wish
>
> >     to treat them --we may scan them, interpret them,
>
> >     perform them, as we like. I'm a bit confused,
>
> >     and uneasy...
>
> >          In the case of this particular
>
> >     can-be-but-needn't-be opinion, wouldn't Prof.
>
> >     Strier and others want to exclude instances
>
> >     where using meter to determine performance would
>
> >     produce a patently wrong-headed or spurious
>
> >     meaning?
>
> >         "Let me not to the marriage of true minds /
>
> >     Admit impediments" is the opening of what is
>
> >     usually understood as a definitional poem, but
>
> >     Helen Vendler points out (though I always
>
> >     misremember and over simplify) that if you allow
>
> >     the iambic prosody to do its proper work you have,
>
> >     "Let ME not to the marriage of true minds admit
>
> >     impediments," and the poem is no longer an
>
> >     instance of the genre of definition, but rather of
>
> >     the genre of dramatic refutation or rebuttal. I'm
>
> >     not sure Vendlers reading is the better than the
>
> >     usual one, but it obviously is not a patently
>
> >     wrong-headed or spurious one so it doesn't
>
> >     perfectly suit my query ; I hope it might
>
> >     nevertheless help the discussion.
>
> >
>
> >     Cheers. Jolly good cheers,
>
> >
>
> >     Carl
>
> >
>
> >     _______________________________________________
>
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>
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>
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>
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>
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>
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>
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>
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>
>
> Richard Strier
>
> Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor
>
> Department of English
>
> University of Chicago
>
> 1115 East 58th Street
>
> Chicago, IL 60637
>
>
>
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