[Milton-L] Scansion of line X

srevard at siue.edu srevard at siue.edu
Tue Sep 17 17:11:40 EDT 2013

Richard--and MiltonListers--

I am taking the liberty, as Stella Revard's husband, of offering brief remarks
on the scansion of line one.  She and I have followed the discussion with
interest, but she is dealing with severe health problems just now, so I will
report first that she and I seem to agree (mirabile dictu) on a point that I
THINK haa not really been made or dealt with so far:  the actual blessed SENSE
of the line is crucial to a reading-aloud of it.  This is not at all different
from prose, where cadences, stresses, tones, reveal and change the meanings
that a reading-aloud brings out.  And it is closely comparable, as Milton would
have deeply and passionately been aware, to the singing of an aria or lieder.

In PL line 1, a reading-aloud can only be properly given AFTER the reader has
looked over those first twenty or so lines, thoroughly understood what they
tell us, and then gone back to offer a reading-aloud.  When I do that, I
understand and try to convey to a listener (via the combination of metrical,
rhetorical, dramatic phonation) the grandeur, the ambition, the long-meditated
determination of the poet to set in motion a true epic:  the theme is huge, the
required poetic effort very great to match this scale.  The style, as Milton
says later when overcoming his own self-doubt and the Drydenian subversions and
rival tintinnabulations, MUST be "answerable."  And Milton rose to that
challenge:  from the very first line we hear and feel that this poet has his
singing robes around him, that he is delivering a controlled passionate "song"
on the greatest of themes, one that dominates and directs the entire Biblical
account of universal and human beginnings and history.  It risks, as Marvell so
brilliantly said, "ruining to fables old" those most central and powerful
stories of what Christians believed to be sacred truths.

A reader who begins to read PL aloud is prepared, from line 1, to try and get
into his vocal performance this kind of awareness on the part of this epic
poet; the first sentence will go on to bring us to the top of Mount Sinai:
Milton is taking over from Moses as narrator of Genesis, and his theme and his
style must be greater therefore than that of Homer or that of Vergil.

So when we "say" Of man's first disobedience," we have to convey that this is
not just one man's "voyage" (Odysseus, Aeneas), it is MAN'S.  The stress there
is not just metrical, not just poetic, it is philosophic/historic/religious in
feeling so as to convey the high seriousness, the utterly crucial and central
nature to all humankind of the story this poem will tell.  And the next word,
FIRST, has to carry on this deep and passionate statement of theme; this is not
just A disobedient act, it is the very FIRST one.  And the listener and the
reader must understand as this is said that the disobedience is not merely to
another human, not even just to a KING: it is to God himself.  That is of
course not stated, but every reader in 1667 England would KNOW this, would
bring this awareness to what is being read-aloud-and-heard here:  the theme
here is the disobedience to God.  And in the following word, DIS must carry
heavy stress/emphasis, because it is the key to what went wrong:  so, a
reader-aloud must stride strongly along this line, render the three consecutive
syllables with appropriate grave indeed mortal seriousness. The "-oBEdience" can
then fill out the verse before the caesura, confirming the theme, giving it a
formal quiet statement.

After the comma/caesura, the reader will "promote" AND to give it rhetorical
emphasis, because what follows is not just an incredible pun/word-work, but a
double-force statement about the circumstances and results of that first
disobedience:  "AND the FRUIT"--the fruit of the Tree of Life, which is DEATH.
And Milton has placed FRUIT at the end of the line where the reader-on-the-page
sees (s)he must "carry over" this grandeur of tone to the following line, "Of
THAT forBIDden TREE whose MORtal TASTE" (think of the range of senses alive and
dancing within those two words!).

In short, we ain't just "reading aloud," we are conveying Milton's great themes
here.  The sense makes the performance.

Quoting "Richard A. Strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu>:

> It's a wonderful fact -- one with which I have had long and rich experience
> -- that scansion, which one might think would be the most cut and dried part
> of literary/poetic analysis always turns out to be interestingly contentious,
> theoretical, and personal.  If one has a taste for the topic -- which I do,
> and Professor Fleming may not -- the contention and discussion is part of the
> fun of the whole thing.  Who would've thought?  I can hardly wait to discuss
> another line!
> RS
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Gregory Machacek
> [Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu]
> Sent: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 1:43 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: [Milton-L] Scansion of line X
> Darn!  The subject line made me think we were moving on to line 10.
> Part of what elicits JD Fleming's feeling is that every blessed time we have
> one of these discussions about a particular case we negotiate afresh the
> meaning of "every blessed term" (stress/accent/beat; rhythm/meter).  Efforts
> to define and illustrate every blessed term carefully, precisely and wisely
> are book-length and multiple, and people on this list all have their
> favorites.  Attridge lurks behind a lot of the commentary.  But any attempt
> to collegially agree on some one of the existing prosodies would, I suspect:
> 1) reproduce all of the renegotiation we do each time and 2) end in collegial
> resolutions to agree to disagree, rather than in collegial agreement.
> But for all of that, I find these discussions profitable.
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> From: JCarl Bellinger
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: 09/17/2013 01:54PM
> Subject: [Milton-L] Scansion of line X
> In order to escape the  complaint implicit in Professor Fleming's cordial "Is
> there any validity to my feeling, which comes up whenever a scansion thread
> becomes a web..." in order as I say to escape this nicely posed complaint
> mustn't EVERY blessed term essential to this endemically intractable subject
> be carefully, precisely, wisely, defined & illustrated, AND
> collegially agreed, before any serious discussion can be profitably
> undertaken?
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