[Milton-L] A pause about pauses

carl bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Sat Sep 22 15:23:22 EDT 2007

Dear Michael Gillum, sorry I haven't kept pace with the various fascinating threads, but the topic of M's prosody is in no hurry I think. 'Won't complain to be left slumbering any length of time. I rather like Mario's subject heading "A pause about pauses;" it seems fitting for a topic in no hurry.
   You're right, I mischaracterized your point, you didn't say that off-center caesurae are the "unavoidable by-product of enjambment."  Sorry for that. 
       The logic that these two features [off center pause, and vigorous enjambment] are reciprocal and tend to imply each other seems right, even obvious. But in prosodic study it seems to me there is so little agreement about anything, that the better part of valor is to remain agnostic even with things that seem plainly reasonable. 
      For instance, your supposition that "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," . . . "  seems entirely reasonable. But take a look at the following from Book II, where I copy a continuous stretch of over 20 lines from Mammon's speech arguing against war with th'almighty.  I will barge right in and will insert a numeral indicating at which syllable a punctuated caesura occurs. Note than not one pause occurs at the off-center extremes of syllable 1 or 2, or 8 or 9. Out of 23 blank verse lines only three occur at somewhat off-center syllable *7 ; the rest are at the conventional places in midline after 4 or 6 or 5.  Note also that the enjambments include good, forceful Miltonic ones: 
"admidst/Thick clouds;" 
"cannot we his Light/imitate...;"  
"from whence to raise/Magnificence:" 
[end of period here].4 Our greatness will appeer
Then most conspicuous,5 when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful,5 prosperous of adverse
We can create,4 and in what place so e're [ 260 ]
Thrive under evil,4 and work ease out of pain
Through labour and indurance.*7 This deep world
Of darkness do we dread?6 How oft amidst
Thick clouds and dark^ doth Heav'ns all-ruling Sire
Choose to reside,4 his Glory unobscur'd, [ 265 ]
And with the Majesty of darkness round
Covers his Throne;4 from whence deep thunders roar
Must'ring thir rage,4 and Heav'n resembles Hell?
As he our darkness,5 cannot we his Light
Imitate when we please?*7 This Desart soile [ 270 ]
Wants not her hidden lustre,*7 Gemms and Gold;
Nor want we skill or Art,6 from whence to raise
Magnificence;4 and what can Heav'n shew more?
Our torments also may in length of time
Become our Elements,6 these piercing Fires [ 275 ]
As soft as now severe,6 our temper chang'd
Into their temper;5 which must needs remove
The sensible of pain.6 All things invite
To peaceful Counsels,5 and the settl'd State

Why so very many conventionally centered caesurae?  What I'd suggest is that Milton, always in absolute -and conscious- control of prosodic form, has given Mammon a prosody apt for his personality and his "settl'd" counsel.

Milton adjusts his prosody: for the person... and the dramatic mood... and the proper content, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Does any English poet show such mastery of prosody as M, such variety, such decorous aptness of number?

I think not. But here's the rub for the study of prosody. In PL the prosody of one paragraph may be an entirely different animal from that of another. He might even create I suppose an anti-prosody at spots should this serve some cosmic/rhetorical/philosophical/dramatic purpose of expression. 

    Much prosodic study has based itself on finding a single, master format for the English pentameter line, a template against which every line of every poet from Wyatt to Wordsworth can be measured and assessed for its prosodic characteristics, and/or against which every line is in aesthetic "tension" in some degree.  I'm not sure this is a viable approach, even logically. [Not that I'm a logician to make the assertion.] But in any case, I have a hunch that of all poets to stay away from when pursuing a universalizing narrative of the principles of the iambic pentameter line, Milton would be the first. He is no friend of the a-priori in any sphere, and when it comes the *liberty,*  the "Ancient Liberty," of sacred song Milton is a fierce and dangerous champion. IMHO

The two best assessments from my point of view of the current condition of the study of English prosody are that to be found 

1) in the intro. materials to:

English Versification,
A Reference Guide
With a Global Appendix
Hypertext Version 1999
T. V. F. Brogan
[which I found online in its entirety a couple years ago]

And 2) in the 1975 "Variorum........Milton" Vol IV, 257, where Edward Weismiller (in an essay treating the blank verse of both Paradise Regained and Paradise Lost) says concerning the "voluminous writings" on English prosody:

"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."


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Michael Gillum" <mgillum at unca.edu>
To: "milton-l" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Monday, September 17, 2007 4:13 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] A pause about pauses

> 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."
> _______________________________________________
> Milton-L mailing list
> Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
> Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20070922/a4720f31/attachment.html

More information about the Milton-L mailing list