[Milton-L] Selden on verse

J. Michael Gillum mgillum at ret.unca.edu
Thu Oct 24 10:45:15 EDT 2013

Carl Bellinger,

The experienced reader (a construct of Attridge's) seeks to locate five
beat-realizing syllables in a pattern compatible both with the conventions
of iambic verse and with the determinate stress contours of the line as
natural language. That is, the metrical pattern that is perceived should
not contradict clear natural stress contrasts. According to iambic
convention, a ten-syllable line may end with the metrical patterns x/x/,
/xx/, or xx//, although those who follow Wimsatt do not recognize xx// as a
metrical pattern. The "double trochee" (  /x/x ) would be distinctly
abnormal, and I doubt that it ever occurs with clearly marked stress
contours, line-terminally, in poems with a traditional iambic set.

On burning marl, not like those steps
On Heaven's azure. . . .

"Not like those" is a flat stretch with no determinate stress contour.
Therefore readers are free to apply any of the three canonical metric
patterns. Since "not" and "those" are candidates for contrastive stressing,
one could say the half-line as /x/x. However, I am sure that Milton would
not have said it that way.

Most readers will interpret a flat patch in the alternating way, as Richard
Strier does here. In performance, one can raise the pitch on "those" to
indicate its importance while adjusting the timing to let "steps" realize
the beat.

The interpretation /xx/ also works fine and is what I would prefer. The
interpretation xx// is hard to render owing to the relative importance of


On Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 10:46 PM, Richard A. Strier
<rastrier at uchicago.edu>wrote:

>  OK;  I'll bite:  iambic.  (Obviously second foot could be a spondee, but
> why see an irregularity when you can see a regularity?)
>    ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [
> milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of JCarl Bellinger [
> dionhalic at gmail.com]
> *Sent:* Wednesday, October 23, 2013 9:31 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Selden on verse
>   "Verse proves nothing but the quantity of syllables; they are not meant
> for logic."
>    Perhaps (or by extension): What you discover when parsing a verse into
> the fixed feet & syllables proper to its meter, cannot be used to argue ,
> to "prove," to determine, anything about the meaning of what's being
> expressed, the logic of it.
>   "Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on
> the tongue...but if you mouth your words. ."
>    "Speak what you feel not what you prosody."
>     I believe it was either Addison or one of his contemporaries [ anybody
> have a multiple-commentary edition on the shelf?] who glossed Milton's "fit
> quantity of syllables" as the natural/normal/actual/"fit" length of time
> this or that syllable will occupy when this or that Englishman is saying
> whatever it might be he feels like saying on the occasion. Or something to
> that effect.
> John Hale's observation,
> "English *accent* may fall on a long or a short vowel, and a long vowel
> may be unaccented" is nicely illustrated in the last five syllables of
> "...not like those steps/On Heaven's azure," where the second of
> "heaven's" and of "azure" is distinctly longer than the first yet the first
> takes the accent. Even the "On" is longer perhaps than the first in
> "Heaven's."
>    But would it start a fight to ask how to scan the preceding four
> syllables : "not like those steps?"
> Good luck with that!
> Carl
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