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

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Fri Oct 18 10:30:41 EDT 2013


My question has to do with the relation between the line boundary (the
space after the 10th or 11th syllable) and the syntactic boundaries (ends
of phrases, clauses, or sentences)--do they tend to correspond (end-stopped
line) or not (enjambed line)? With frequent and strong enjambment, we tend
to lose track of the line as a five beat unit. That's why PL is so hard to
memorize. Also it tends to throw major syntactic boundaries (cesurae)
towards the beginning and ends of lines, after syllables 2,3, 7, or 8, as
opposed to the medial cesurae that prevail in more conservative metrical

Regarding versification at least, Samuel Johnson was wrong to say that
Milton's style was the same from first to last, because the Nativity Ode
does not have many enjambed lines, whereas heavy enjambment is the most
distinctive characteristic of PL's metrical style. I don't know of any
precedent in English, so I wondered if there is one in Italian poetry.

On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM, Dario Rivarossa
<dario.rivarossa at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dear Michael, many thanks for your always precious insights. Just a
> couple of details in addition, not properly answers to your questions:
> >does Tasso or any other Italian poet known to Milton
> treat the line-boundary in such a cavalier manner?
> Possibly Tasso in his long poem "Il Mondo Creato" (The Creation of the
> World), where he worked on hendecasyllables in a way that no Italian
> poet before him had - nor would they even later, at least until the
> 20th century -, i.e. completely destructuring the verses, as well as
> the plot and characters. Milton may have seen this poem in Naples
> thanks to Giovanni Battista Manso, a friend an biographer of Tasso
> (who had died meanwhile, in 1595).
> >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.
> I don't think so. Belli's are absolutely regular hendecasyllables,
> though not looking like that at first sight. His verses sounded
> 'natural' because the wording came directly from 'the street.'
> Witnesses said he was a great actor in reciting them (mid-19th
> century). Incidentally, he worked as a theater censor for the then
> Papal State, and he rejected "Macbeth" since it could justify
> political assassinations :-)
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