[Milton-L] Milton-L Digest, Vol 75, Issue 14

srevard at siue.edu srevard at siue.edu
Tue Feb 19 18:20:30 EST 2013

Right onward, John, as so often with your close readings/hearings of Milton. The
only point I would add is that as always with Milton the sound is just as
powerfully important to what the poem says/means as the nautical imagery, which
is the key to figurative sense.  A reader should listen, always:  here, Milton
all but draws himself up like Samson, and the three words STEER RIGHT ONWARD are
spoken as if through firm-set jaws, a stern and rockbound statement that he will
never give in, never let himself weaken.  It is a quieter and less bombastic
statement than Henley's "I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my
Soul" in the aptly named INVICTUS), and therefore an even more English one. I
think one of the things Keats learned from his close readings of Milton was this
management of level stressing for great effects.  One of the best things F. R.
Leavis ever did was to talk about how Keats created/used such an effect, for
instance, Keats's Ode To Autumn, when Autumn, "Sometimes like a gleaner, thou
doet keep/ Steady thy laden head across a brook" (I may have the quote slightly
wrong).  And you will recall that Keats, when he read lines with such effects,
"hoisted himself up and looked burly."

For me, that moment in Milton's sonnet raises goosebumps.  It could not be LESS
trite, because it makes a plain heroic statement with the utmost of firm
resolve, and Milton always means and lives what he says.

I have been reading the Milton List comments to Stella, who usually just listens
and moves on, but I couldn't resist remarking on this matter.

Carter Revard

Quoting John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca>:

> I can hear nothing trite in 'bear up and steer / Right onward'.  I can
> see that 'uphillward' might convey that impression (especially after the
> nautical imagery in 'bear up' and 'steer'), but Jim is surely right on
> when he says 'Right onward' is 'heroic in the face of adversity'. Both
> the language and imagery (sailing against a head wind) look forward to
> Satan's journey through Hell and Chaos, when he is likened to a merchant
> fleet 'Close sailing from Bengala' as it plies 'Stemming nightly toward
> the pole'. ('Close' and 'stemming' are also nautical terms.) 'Bear up'
> also plays on the senses 'uphold principles' and 'keep up courage' (OED
> 21), ideas that Milton took seriously.
> John Leonard
> On 19/02/2013 12:39 PM, James Rovira wrote:
> > I read the tone as heroic in the face of adversity, Milton believing
> > that he suffered a loss of eyesight because of his defense of liberty
> > in England.  I don't mean to argue that "steer / Right onward" might
> > sound trite, but it could be that he hoped the serious tone of the
> > poem up until that point would carry that construction through as
> > well, and that the reference to his "noble task" would elevate it
> > afterwards.  He also seems to consider the fame he won for his
> > engagement of this noble task as compensation for his loss of eyesight.
> >
> > So I would say that the "still bear up and steer / Right onward" is
> > not later to be rejected, but is supported by the rest of the poem,
> > while the previous clause beginning with "Yet I argue not..." is the
> > idea to be rejected: that Milton might argue with God about his loss
> > of eyesight.  He seems to be positioning himself as facing the
> > temptations of Job here and coming out on top.
> >
> > Jim R
> >
> > On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 12:28 PM, Christopher Baker
> > <christopher.baker at armstrong.edu
> > <mailto:christopher.baker at armstrong.edu>> wrote:
> >
> >         Dear scholars,
> >
> >         I have read every article and chapter on "To Cyriack Skinner
> >         upon his Blindness" that I could get my hands on and am
> >         working through the tone of lines 6-9:
> >         Yet I argue not
> >         Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot
> >         Of heart of hope; but sill bear up and steer
> >         Right onward. What supports me dost thou ask?
> >
> >         Many editors note the revisions to the poem, including
> >         replacing "Uphillward" with "Right onward." In addition to
> >         more clearly initiating the sense of traveling/sailing  that
> >         other elements of the poem produce, "Right onward" sounds to
> >         me as purposefully trite, more along the lines of Milton's
> >         reference to the "fatal and perfidious bark" in "Lycidas," a
> >         trite explanation called in to be ultimately rejected. I see
> >         the four aspirated "h" sounds in the first halves of lines 7
> >         and 8 as contributing to that tone.
> >
> >         What are your thoughts? Many thanks.
> >
> >         Adios,
> >         Angelica Duran
> >
> >
> >
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