[Milton-L] Contract bridge column

Nancy Charlton pastorale55 at yahoo.com
Tue Dec 30 18:31:16 EST 2008

Just got around to the paper. To my delight, "Aces on Bridge" today has as its headnote a passage from PL that always makes me laugh:

…admiring more
The riches of Heav'n's pavement, trodd'n Gold,
Than aught divine or holy else enjoy'd
In vision beatific:    (I.681-683)

The bridge in question is a slam that can only be made by looking upward, as it were, to a divided diamond (wouldn't you know?) suit. The "Mammon" view would have you do the kneejerk action taking a finesse. The hand can be made only by carefully taking the high cards and endplaying so that when East takes the Q, it can't get back to West's long heart.

I'd question whether a tactical consideration such as this would really qualify as a "vision beatific" but it should be heartening to see JM quoted in a popular newspaper and to some practical end. Somebody outside the academy is still reading him!

I read lines 670-699 to my roommate, who doesn't see how I can be so taken with Milton, but after I had paraphrased it, and she actually laughed. At my Milton Birthday Dinner a couple weeks ago she really enjoyed most of what I had to say, but liked the salmon more. Only two guests came, the other invitees scared off by looming snow. One--who asked me months ago to tell her more about Milton--was with me all the way, and the other frankly snoozed. He is the one who had never heard of Milton at all, but he said upon leaving that he enjoyed the pie. Alas.

In this reading just now I was reminded of agonizing as an undergraduate over the sentence beginning at "And" in line 693. "Strength and Art are easily outdone by Spirits reprobate" is a nice sententia, an aphoristic nugget easily lifted out of context and remembered without being memorized. It must have been a sign of growth that I could later say, no, that was not the best conclusion. The poet here might have emphasized the HOW in the sentence. What intrigues me now is why JM using the Poet's voice interjected this sentence and the one just previous at this point. Does he really want the reader to stop and "learn" at this point?  Is the sentence a  prophecy concerning what happens to works "made," i.e. poesie? If so, does it echo a dominant strain in Shakespeare's sonnets?  It was the "riches" of the golden pavements that Mammon admired, not the "vision beatific". Mining is a "spacious wound" from which are "digged out" not just "ribs of Gold" but
 by implication all other of earth's riches--formless, toxic, ugly--deserving only of Hell. It's a stretch, but is there a parallel with the creation of Eve (which hasn't happened yet): while that operation was pretty smooth, not "digg'd out" in the violent and painful manner implied here, and Adam formed of clay and Eve from his rib are artifacts and not creations?

Nancy Charlton
Snow all melted and floods threatening

Nancy Charlton


Ring out, ye crystal spheres . . .

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