[Milton-L] A pause about pauses

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Sep 17 16:13:57 EDT 2007

What Puttenham and Johnson call "pauses" are syntactic boundaries. There is
not necessarily an actual pause in delivery. Often we don't pause at phrase
boundaries; we do pause at semi-colons and sentence boundaries; we may or
may not pause at other clause boundaries. Actual pause is not really a
metric feature in iambic pentameter, as it is in medially divided hexameters
and fourteeners. Actual pause in IP is more a feature of individual
performance. Metric pause is stuff like this:

For falsehood now doth flow, (P) and subjects' faith doth ebb, (P)
Which should not be, if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web. (P)

A caesura is a noticeable line-internal syntactic boundary. Generally we
recognize a mere phrase boundary as a caesura if it occurs medially,
although no pause would be called for. An off-center caesura might not be
recognized as such unless it is a stronger boundary with a definite pause.
The placement of caesurae is a feature of metrical styles rather than an
element of the general iambic system.

What does Milton mean by the "sense" that is variously drawn out? I think he
means the syntactic units with the meaning they convey, variously contained
within or spilling across the line-boundaries. So if the "sense" is the unit
and the "pause" is the boundary of the unit, isn't each concept a reciprocal
of the other? That's what I was getting at in suggesting that enjambments
and caesuras need to be examined together. I am pretty sure an empirical
study would show that off-center caesuras and strong enjambments tend to go
hand in hand as joint features of certain metrical styles, like those of PL
and "My Last Duchess," while end-stopping and medial caesuras go hand in
hand in the neo-classical style.

Carl Bellinger wrote, "that after reading one of these [articles by
Creaser], Mr. Gillum is less inclined to see the variety of the pause in
blank verse merely a an unavoidable by-product of enjambment." I didn't say
or mean "unavoidable." I meant that strong non-medial caesurae and strong
enjambments tend reciprocally to invite each other because of the typical
structures of English syntax; and also that some writers like to use both
features because both destabilize the line with a tension between syntactic
structure and the structure of lines as units. This tension is a main source
of the abounding energy of PL's verse.

Certainly, Carl, I'm not in favor of obliterating metric distinctions, and I
agree that Milton's deployment of syntax against the line-pattern is an
topic worth a lot of discussion. I wonder if Milton failed to discuss his
treatment of "pause" because it is unclassical? (Or is it unclassical?) The
frequent use of enjambment, on the other hand, is sanctified by Virgil's
example. Of course the rhetoric of M's headnote on the verse is built on the
contrast of classical precedent and modern "barbarism."

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