[Milton-L] pauses, etc.

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Sat Sep 15 18:55:12 EDT 2007

I've just read John Creaser's long article on the versification of PL, as
recommended by John Shawcross. It really is excellent.  Interestingly in
view of another current thread, Creaser takes his title from the Prayer
Book, "Service is Perfect Freedom."

The "service" is Milton's adherence to the traditional conventions defining
the structure of iambic pentameter lines. Fewer than 1% of the lines fall
outside the limits of normal variation established for non-dramatic verse by
the practice of poets before Wordsworth, as explained by Derek Attridge's
metrical theory. The "freedom" is the great range of that normal variation
and the expressive power that variations can gather when they push against
the framework of expected regularity.

Creaser draws statistical comparisons between the metrical practice in PL
and the practice in earlier blank-verse epics. One finding that interested
me is that Milton was unusually careful to provide metrically strong
line-endings, that is, a naturally stressed syllable in the final syllabic
position, as opposed to a metrically promoted unstressed or indeterminate
syllable (aka terminal pyrrhic) or a feminine ending. This "service" enables
the "freedom" of enjambment by clarifying the metrical structure that is
being overflowed by the syntax, so the line is not "verse to the eye only"
but can be grasped as a rhythmical unit.

Pertinent to this thread is the finding that PL deploys an unusual number of
"feminine" caesuras, those following odd numbered syllables. And, as we
already knew, Milton's style allows a lot of caesuras early and late in the
line, after syllables 2, 3, 7, and 8. Johnson and Pope wanted the pauses
after #4 or #6. Also, Creaser finds more sentences ending line-internally,
stronger caesuras than Milton's epic predecessors commonly allowed.

Other differences:
--more "stress-final pairings" ( xx// ) in PL than others
--more syllabic elisions, especially between words
--longer sentences.

I am glad to see the Attridge system finally starting to gain the prominence
it deserves. But it's too bad that anyone writing about the metrical style
of a poem has to spend ten pages explaining and defending the metrical
theory and terminology that he or she will use.


On 9/14/07 7:25 PM, "John T. Shawcross" <jtshaw74 at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Those interested in this topic of "pauses" which Carl has recently
> raised should read John Creaser's article in the latest issue of "The
> Review of English Sudies" (RES) on prosody. It's long, excellent, and
> much concerned, for example, with varying pausations within the lines.
> John
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