[Milton-L] "knew not eating metrical death"

Carl Bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Mon Aug 2 18:45:29 EDT 2010


Jeffery,
Is the scanning different when the whole "context" is analyzed? 

1) No, but importantly also, 2) Yes  
(I'm thinking here only of poetry in our tradition Eng. iambic pentameter, or "ten syllable" verse. I think perhaps the characteristics of shorter traditional meters are not precisely the same as for our pentameter) .

1) No: not when you treat accent or stress as feature of individual syllables and treat the unit to be scanned as a single verse line. This of course, almost exclusively, has been the case throughout the past 400 years of published discussion, and thus in a gross sense the answer to your question can only be no because we do not scan verse any other way, we think we are doing all that can be done when scanning pentameter verse: in context? or out of context? What's the difference? 
     We do not scan contexts larger than that specific 10-syllable strand of words printed on the page. The best that can be said I think Jeffery in defense of this limitation is something like "Of course we must hear each line, and can in fact only understand how to pronounce _any_ raw series of words, within the context of the whole speech, the whole period, the whole paragraph; so there should be, will be, no difference between how we scan a single line in isolation and how in context." So to your question as stated, I'd say, nope."  But stop...on reflection a second defense, and perhaps this is prior to the other, is that metrical concerns are by definition concerns for the measured formalities of _the verse line_ itself. Metrics is for single verses.

2) But I would argue also yes: Crucial differences in the interpretation of the sense of a passage nearly always in spoken English are attended by significant recitational differences in stress and stress contours which differences however, in many instances, do not register in syllable by syllable analysis. For instance in the context of, "That day, as other solemn days, they before the Sacred Hill spent in song and mystical dance," the scanning of the four syllables of "mystical dance" would find two stresses, the one on the noun "dance" the other on the first syllable of "mystical" an adjective. But in the semantic context of Milton's text the four syllables of phrase "mystical dance" are pronounced quite differently regarding the speech stresses;

That day, as other solemn dayes, they spent
In song and dance about the sacred Hill,
Mystical dance, which yonder starry sphear... etc.

When a noun, and other parts of speech, is iterated in close proximity, the patterning of spoken English does not stress the second occurrence. So, here, in Milton's text 5.618, the four syllable, adjective-noun pair takes a single recited stress the strongest focus of which is the first syllable of "mystical."  But the conventions of our prosodic analysis [all approaches I've ever seen] would, when examining the relative stressing on the adjacent syllables "cal" and "dance, find somewhat less stress on -cal than on dance, and thus would place into the record exactly the same two-stress representation as in the other instance.  

The phrase in question, "and knew not eating Death," the word "eating" is subject to the same general process since the notion of eating, though not the word itself, is prior and proximate. Consider the statement "Eagerly she consumed it, knowing she ate Life."  We don't stress "ate" in this construction. but we do in "She drank Joy, and she ate Life.

I hear something very like that in

Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
And knew not eating Death

The phrase "and knew not eating Death" I hear, and will recite at the next Milton marathon I can get to, as a two-stress phrase.  Would the first of those two stresses be confined to the single syllable "knew?" No. Would it seem rather to bless somehow the whole two-syllable moment of "knew not?" Yes. Would the second stress sit within the boundaries of the one syllable "Death," or would it somehow scoop up into itself a total of three syllables on its way to its target syllable "Death." I don't know how via email to mark this two-stress reading. Imagine a single underline beneath "knew not" and another beneath "eating Death" where the underline, rather than this or that single syllable, indicates the location of each recited stress.
     I would also mark that slight but perceptible "space" which Hannibal Hamlin found in the prosody of this phrase after "puzzling" through to the hermeneutical solution of "she knew not she was eating Death:" 
    >> And knew not^eating Death <<

    But Jeffery,  if after puzzling over various alternate possibilities of the whole context we conclude that the correct recitational meaning comprehends that: she had not yet been introduced to that tyrant known long after as Devouring Death, a.k.a. Eating Death, the apt recitation would necessarily show quite a different profile of recited stress. For one thing the word "eating" as part of the tyrant's name would catch the full weight of one stress: "And knew not Conan the Barbarian. "

   To your bibliographic query, on a metrical analysis of PL, I'd pass on to you two short comments, which, though I have put them down here two or three times before, have never yet evoked direct comment. Why? Is it because we just don't want to hear such bad news on such a fun, crucial, and apparently simple, straightforward subject?  
     Well, anyway, two expert cautions for 'all ye that enter here:'

First, from Weismiller's essay on Milton's prosody in the Variorum to 
Paradise Regained:

"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."

That's the bad news. Here's the worse. This is in the intro. to T. V. F. 
Brogan's  magisterial annotated bibliography referencing essentially all 
published discussions on Eng prosody (over four centuries worth) among them roughly one hundred twenty on Milton's metrics. From 
_English Versification, 1570-1980, A Reference Guide_:  

"The study of versification is "... a field which in historical terms has
been (it is not too extreme to say) a great mass of ignorance, confusion,
superficial thinking, category mistakes, argument by spurious analogy,
persuasive definitions, and gross abuses of both concepts and terms...
[I]n studies of the structure of verse the use of terms such as poetry,
verse, accent, quantity, Numbers, Measure, rhythm, meter, prosody,
versification, onomatopoeia, and rhyme/rime/ryme,  historically and
consistently has been nothing short of Pandemonium. It was so in 1580 and it
remains so in 1980."

And still in 2010?        -Carl

I see that several posts concerning this marvelous she'at-eating line have come in while I'm composing this laboriousness. Splendid!

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour forth reaching to the fruit, she pluckt, she'at.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Horace Jeffery Hodges 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Monday, August 02, 2010 12:48 AM
  Subject: [Milton-L] "knew not eating death"


  How would one scan this line (PL 9.792):

  "And knew not eating death: Satiate at length"

  Is the scanning significantly different from its context (PL 9.791-4):

  Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,
  And knew not eating Death: Satiate at length,
  And hight'nd as with Wine, jocond and boon,
  Thus to her self she pleasingly began.



  Where could I find a metrical analysis of PL?



  Jeffery Hodges



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