[Milton-L] Scansion of line X

LEEJACOBUS at aol.com LEEJACOBUS at aol.com
Tue Sep 17 23:41:08 EDT 2013

Ah, Carter.  It takes a poet.
In a message dated 9/17/2013 5:12:28 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
srevard at siue.edu writes:

Richard--and MiltonListers--

I am taking the liberty, as  Stella Revard's husband, of offering brief 
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 
report first that  she and I seem to agree (mirabile dictu) on a point that 
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  
from prose, where cadences, stresses, tones, reveal and change  the meanings
that a reading-aloud brings out.  And it is closely  comparable, as Milton 
have deeply and passionately been aware, to the  singing of an aria or 

In PL line 1, a reading-aloud can only be  properly given AFTER the reader 
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 
rhetorical, dramatic phonation)  the grandeur, the ambition, the 
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 
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 
singing robes around him, that he is delivering a controlled  passionate 
on the greatest of themes, one that dominates and directs  the entire 
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 
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 
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 
not just one man's  "voyage" (Odysseus, Aeneas), it is MAN'S.  The stress 
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  
nature to all humankind of the story this poem will tell.  And  the next 
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 
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 
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 
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 
sees (s)he  must "carry over" this grandeur of tone to the following line, 
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 
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 
> -- that scansion,  which one might think would be the most cut and dried 
> of  literary/poetic analysis always turns out to be interestingly  
> theoretical, and personal.  If one has a taste for  the topic -- which I 
> 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 
> 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 
> one of these  discussions about a particular case we negotiate afresh the
> meaning of  "every blessed term" (stress/accent/beat; rhythm/meter).  
>  to define and illustrate every blessed term carefully, precisely and  
> are book-length and multiple, and people on this list all have  their
> favorites.  Attridge lurks behind a lot of the  commentary.  But any 
> to collegially agree on some one of  the existing prosodies would, I 
> 1) reproduce all of the  renegotiation we do each time and 2) end in 
> 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 
> becomes a web..." in order as I say to escape this  nicely posed complaint
> mustn't EVERY blessed term essential to this  endemically intractable 
> be carefully, precisely, wisely,  defined & illustrated, AND
> collegially agreed, before any serious  discussion can be profitably
> undertaken?
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