[Milton-L] Milton-L Digest, Vol 82, Issue 24

Evan LaBuzetta evanlabuzetta at gmail.com
Wed Sep 18 11:24:38 EDT 2013


To piggyback on Carter's and Stella's fine and convincing argument, I'd say
that the three sequential stresses in line 1 does seem (to me) to be a
viable and thematically appropriate reading:

"of MANS FIRST DISoBEdience AND the FRUIT"

and it occurs to me that that scansion is identical to how I read Samson
Agonistes 80:

"o DARK DARK DARK aMID the BLAZE of NOON"

I don't want to make any claims for the significance of that parallel, but
it's certainly an unusual metrical pattern and the echo seemed apparent to
me.

Do any of the more learned list members want to comment on the
triple-stress line, either in Milton or more broadly?

Best wishes for Stella's speedy recovery,
Evan



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
> > 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.
> >
> >
>
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