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

Carl Bellinger bcarlb at comcast.net
Tue Aug 3 13:19:59 EDT 2010

Thank you Michael for this clear & to me particularly helpful statement. It gives me opportunity to say I agree about the key general question of metrics --the relation of spoken rhythm to metrical "measures").  I suspect, and genuinely admire, the kind chutzpa required to, for instance, judge and calculate average confusions of any major contributor to metrical studies as "confused to an average extent." I think this may in fact be a necessary attitude of attack in the tangle jungle of English prosodic discussion, and without it it may near impossible make statement both clear and to discussion. So a genuinely grateful bravo to you and all who will lay the plain syllable down next to the plain stress and say "let the attacks begin.
    I think your judgment of Bridges is wrong and Brogan's right. He marks the succession of metrical expertise in Milton, as you may have noticed in his remarks copied in my recent email, as passing directly from Bridges to Weismiller.  
    I also think that the prosody of PL is substantially different, I'm tempted to say absolutely different, from any other poetry in the major canons prior or subsequent. I come to this assessment based on my own continued studies of rhythmic artifice in Milton. It's an assessment directly bolstered by Bridges' controversial observations on PL (properly understood). And whether Bridges said this in so many words it is clear that he too saw the abstracted character of the prosody of PL as an astonishing aberration, one he backed off from by degrees in PR and SA; thus Brogan: 
       "[Bridges'] Part I, "On the Prosody of Paradise Lost," treats the counting of syllables
and accents as the fundamental principles of Miltonic meter; Bridges' view of
Miltonic elision is that syllables are to be fully realized in pronunciation but
elided in scansion. The number and placement of accents belongs to the
rhythm but not to the meter . . . . Part II, on PR and SA, cites instances of Milton's
steady relaxation of the rules he followed for PL" 
   I fully agree, Michael, the key question turns on linguistic stress and metrical accent, and I think Bridges is right about the astonishing prosody of PL: "The number and placement of accents belongs to the rhythm but NOT to the meter."

Thank you again!

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Michael Gillum 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Tuesday, August 03, 2010 10:00 AM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "knew not eating metrical death"

  Carl, referring to the pessimistic gobbets you quoted, the study of English meter has been deeply confused since its inception, but some writers are much less confused than others; in fact, some writers, for example John Creaser, may not be confused at all. Robert Bridges was confused to an average extent.

  The system of meter is analogous to the linguistic system, but it is a different system, and much simpler. The similarity is that both systems are known to their users tacitly rather than explicitly. The test of mastery is not the ability to describe the system abstractly. Rather it is the ability to compose and register metric verse according to the system that the poets have evolved--or, in the case of language, to use English in a way that native speakers recognize as competent. Only a very limited understanding of English grammar was made explicit before the rise of linguistics in the 20th century, and some of what grammarians thought they knew was false.

  The key question in English metrics is, "What is the nature of metric accent and how is it related to linguistic stress?" If one wants to have a coherent theory of meter, one needs to understand clearly the range of answers that have been proposed, and one needs to choose the answer that is correct. One characteristic of a  good theory is that it would include an understanding of what linguistic stress is in English.


  >"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."


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