[Milton-L] Scansion of line X

Kimberly Johnson kimberly.johnson71 at gmail.com
Tue Sep 17 18:07:51 EDT 2013

A beautiful description of the dynamic and living phenomenon that is
scansion, Carter, and a brilliant enacting of Richard's last point.  Thanks
for bringing the poet to the conversation.  My best wishes to you, and to
Stella.  (And to Lawrence.)

Kimberly Johnson

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 3:11 PM, <srevard at siue.edu> wrote:

> 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
> 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
> 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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