[Milton-L] Milton's artistry

J. B. Lethbridge lethbridge at jblethbridge.com
Wed Jul 21 11:36:35 EDT 2010

Can I chip in with something less scholarly, but I think pertinent.
One of the things that impresses me about this line is its sheer efficiency,
even if all you plug for is the "she did not know that she was eating death"
reading. But it is also memorable, and highly quotable. Nor should we
over-estimate its syntactic oddity or unnaturalness (re English). I recall
doing PL at A-Level many years ago, and while some of PL is of course hard
for teenagers to follow, not much of it is (was), and above all this line
seemed quite normal to us, though dense, naturally: that is, it seemed to
belong to English. And it stuck. It was, for instance always on hand for a
joke about the food at school, and I dare say not just at ours.
And if ever one wanted a companion line to go with Leavis's much-derided
comment about chewing apples in reading Ode to Autumn, this would be it.
It may not be a ravishing line (poetic), but nor is it as awkward as it
seems upon prolonged and scholarly reflection: but if it is native (if
'natural' is too strong) memorable, quotable, and efficient surely it is
that far poetic and at least not a bad line.
So that seeing it as a graecism does not justify it, but explains either or
both of how it came to be designed that way, or how it works.
It seems coarse to intrude with such things in a very expert and rewarding
discussion of technique and technicalities, but might the lived experience
of PL help keep us honest (so to speak)?

J.B. Lethbridge
(Gen. Ed., The Manchester Spenser)
English Seminar
Tuebingen University
Wilhelmstrasse 50
72074 Tuebingen

On Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 4:55 PM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

> That Milton worked in PL to "prevent paradise even from being imagined,
> except on condition of its imminent loss" seems completely and utterly
> wrong to
> me.  Much of the achievement of the poem -- and much of its uniqueness --
> comes from the extraordinary and sustained evocation it provides of
> developed
> LIFE in Eden before the fall (relationships, work, sex, companionship,
> picnics,
> story-telling, discussions, etc.).
> I am also willing to go on record thinking that "knew not eating Death" is
> quite a
> bad line, only perhaps justified by Death being thought of as the agent of
> "eating."  Seeing at as a "grecism" [sic] does not seem to me any sort of
> poetic
> justification.
> RS
> ---- Original message ----
> >Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 16:00:24 +0200
> >From: "Ernst Oor" <eoor at planet.nl>
> >Subject: [Milton-L] Milton's artistry
> >To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> >
> >   Dear List Members,
> >
> >   Some time ago the list members discussed poetry and
> >    art in connection with the various interpretations
> >   of some passages in Paradise Lost.
> >
> >   I am reading Kenneth Haynes book English Literature
> >   and Ancient Languages  (Oxford University
> >   Press, 2003) and on p. 79 of his book Haynes gives a
> >   scholarly explanation showing, in my opinion,
> >   Milton's artistry.
> >   I quote:
> >
> >       Take a famous grecism from Paradise Lost. Eve
> >   plucks the fruit, eats
> >       (9.791-2):
> >
> >                          Greedily she ingorg'd without
> >   restraint,
> >                          And knew not eating Death:
> >
> >       Greek may use a participle after verbs of
> >   knowledge or perception,
> >       and the line, modelled after greek, means 'and
> >   knew not that she
> >       ate Death'. But the unusual syntax is not
> >   limited to its Greek model;
> >       rather it concentrates several meanings in the
> >   line: Eve did not know
> >       (that is, she was ignorant for the last time)
> >   while she was eating
> >       death; she did not know what she did (she ate
> >   death); she did not
> >       know the eating, devouring power of death...
> >
> >       [further down]
> >
> >       His [Milton's] most powerful writing insists on
> >   the loss of paradise, to
> >       prevent paradise even from being imagined,
> >   except on condition of its
> >       imminent loss. Imitations of Greek and Latin
> >   syntax and vocabulary
> >       provided Milton with one means to accomplish
> >   this...
> >
> >   Though Haynes' book is not about Milton, his poetry
> >   is often discussed and the book may be
> >   interesting to  Milton scholars who have not yet
> >   read it.
> >
> >   Best regards,
> >
> >   Enna Martina.
> >
> >
> >
> >
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