[Milton-L] 1.1. and dark, dark, dark

Elizabeth Bradburn elizabeth.bradburn at wmich.edu
Wed Sep 18 15:10:51 EDT 2013


Another reason that "first" and "dis" jockey for hierarchy, in Professor Machacek's felicitous phrase, is that they place two dental stops next to each other: firsT Dis. 

darK Dark is slightly easier to say because the pair of consonants moves from the back to the front of the mouth. For me also this gives the lines very different sounds. Perhaps phonemes contribution to rhythm as much as metrical stresses do. 

Beth Bradburn 

----- Original Message -----

> From: "Gregory Machacek" <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 2:45:15 PM
> Subject: [Milton-L] 1.1. and dark, dark, dark

> I actually find these very different sounding lines, and it's a sign
> of how profitable the earlier discussion has been for me that I
> think I can say why (and therefore what's unique about 1.1). First,
> the string of unstresses in "i-ence-and-the," in which we have to
> both elide i-ence and promote and in order to conform to the meter
> is not like the firmly rhythmical "the BLAZE of" But second, the
> thing I've been finding most interesting about 1.1, the secondary
> accent in dis- seems not quite stressed enough to fully demote first
> , with all our various reasons for wanting to give it a stress;
> those two syllables jockey uneasily for the kind of hierarchy that
> would let a clear rhythm emerge. It's what makes some here find a
> (rare) trochee in the second foot, and others find a (rare) six beat
> line. It may be true that it's hard to demote the second of three
> words when they're all the same word, but certainly the third DARK
> here is nowhere near as feeble as the dis- in disobedience, and for
> me it is that that gives 1.1 its special character.

> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College

> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----

> To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
> From: Evan LaBuzetta
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: 09/18/2013 11:27AM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton-L Digest, Vol 82, Issue 24

> 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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-- 

Elizabeth Bradburn 
Associate Professor of English 
Editor, Comparative Drama 
Western Michigan University 
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5331 
269-387-2620 
Comparative Drama Website: http://www.wmich.edu/compdr/ 
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