[Milton-L] Milton's blank verse: stresses and sources

Salwa Khoddam skhoddam at cox.net
Fri Oct 18 02:03:57 EDT 2013


"Chaucer invented English iambic pentameter (and Wyatt revived it, sort of)
with reference to the Italian hendecasyllabo."

  I have some questions regarding this statement: Although there is some unrymed verse that can be scanned as iambic pentameter lines in Chaucer's *Tale of Melibeus* and *The Parson's Tale*, which are predominantly in prose, does that justify the statement that "Chaucer invented English iambic pentameter." As C. S. Lewis states, "The suggestion that he [Earl of Surrey] found blank verse in the *Tale of Melibeus* does not seem to me worth considering" (*English Literature* 233).  Also, wasn't it Surrey who brought it to England from Italy (possibly Molza's translation of Virgil) and who was the first to publish in Modern English blank verse translations from the *Aeneid* (written ca.1540 and published in *Tottel's Micsellany* in 1557 [*Princeton Encylopedia of Poetry and Poetics*, 1974 ed., 78])? Did Wyatt also compose in blank verse?
Thanks for the clarification.
Salwa
 
Salwa Khoddam PhD
Professor of English Emerita
Oklahoma City University
Author of *Mythopoeic Narnia:
Memory, Metaphor, and Metamorphoses 
in The Chronicles of Narnia*
skhoddam at cox.net
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: J. Michael Gillum 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 11:44 AM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's blank verse: stresses and sources


  Chaucer invented English iambic pentameter (and Wyatt revived it, sort of) with reference to the Italian hendecasyllabo. But Milton simply writes English iambic pentameter as it had existed since Spenser (that is, the same variations in stress contour are found in Spenser, Shakespeare, Jonson etc) except that Milton exploits enjambment and non-medial cesura to a degree unprecedented in English versification. So Carl's second question is an interesting one--does Tasso or any other Italian poet known to Milton treat the line-boundary in such a cavalier manner?


  In "My Last Duchess," Browning breaks up the iambic line in PL fashion, which has the effect of burying the couplet rhymes in enjambments.  I don't know if that is what Belli was talking about in his comment on "natural-seeming" rhyme.



  On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 2:45 AM, Dario Rivarossa <dario.rivarossa at gmail.com> wrote:

    Fellow Miltonist JCarl Bellinger, in a private message, asked for some
    pieces of information about Milton's verses with reference to his
    Tassean precedents. The topic may be of some interest here also, so
    here it is. Best!

    >Miltons blank verse (...)  is related somehow or other to Tasso's practise

    Yes, I think Milton's verses were 'Italian' hendecasyllables. One may
    reply: But verses in PL only have 10 syllables!
    Of course. One of the rules with hendecasyllables is that the last
    stress falls on the 10th syllable. So, if the last word (as it is
    often the case in English) is a brief word, having its stress on the
    first-and-last syllable, the verse stops there. But there are some
    instances in PL where the last word is a longer one, and in that case
    the verse regularly shows 11 syllables.

    >Do whole sentences run thru the verse with little or no reference to the verse line

    Tasso used the blank verse in his long poem "Il Mondo Creato" (The
    Creation of the World). The language there is experimental, with many
    expressions, phrases, etc., being taken from everyday talks, but he
    anyway follows the rules of hendecasyllables, so stresses do fall on
    certain syllables in each verse, even in this case.
    19th century poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, who wrote poems in the
    dialect of Rome, said that he tried to (and he did) make sentences
    sound as 'natural' as possible, as if the rhymes were just coming out
    by chance.
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