[Milton-L] Contract bridge column
skhoddam at cox.net
Tue Dec 30 21:06:19 EST 2008
Thanks for inviting us to contemplate on Milton's pregnant passage that you refer to in your post and for your exquisite interpretation of it. I like it when Milton occasionally intrudes and bashes the devils and everything they do or say. I have just finished a book by Marina Warner, an Oxford scholar, on metamorphoses, titled Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self. In it she divides the process of metamorphoses into three types: 1), supernaturally caused, whether for punishment or creation (Pandora); 2), organic, natural (the develpment of the pupa into a butterfly); and 3), artificial ( through magical art, shape shifting). The last kind is the work of the devil and is hellish, which reminded me of the passage you have quoted. I think Milton is denouncing the works of Mammon as evil (the word "art" closely associated with alchemy and magic), and I believe, he contrasts it with God's work which is creation, causing the inanimate to become animate, the most glorious metamorphosis of all. Devils can't do that. Warner's book is a deep and erudite work. I apologize for rendering her complex ideas so simplistically.
Happy New Year to all.
----- Original Message -----
From: Nancy Charlton
To: Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
Sent: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 5:31 PM
Subject: [Milton-L] Contract bridge column
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:
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?
Snow all melted and floods threatening
Ring out, ye crystal spheres . . .
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