[Milton-L] "Four-Letter Words"

Salwa Khoddam skhoddam at cox.net
Fri Apr 18 15:48:09 EDT 2014

Dear John,
Thanks for pointing out Lewis's discussion in "Four-Letter Words" i.e., "obscene words," (*Selected Literary Essays)* on what he calls "the most unsavoury of all perversions" (cunnus). (I tried to avoid typing this word, but I couldn't because my meaning wouldn't be clear.)  His point is that these "obscene" words were satirized in literature up to Milton's time. His essay is prompted by a note from D. H. Lawrence  in defense of *Lady Chatterley's Lover*: "We are to-day, as human beings, evolved and cultured far beyond the taboos which are inherent in our culture. . . .The evocative power of the so-called obscene words must have been very dangerous to the dim-minded, obscure, violent natures of the Middle Ages, and perhaps is still too strong for slow-minded, half-evoked natures to-day."  So . . . why would Milton want to arouse readers' supposedly intense feelings about "fellatio" and "cunnilingus," in a culture filled with taboos about these words/acts? Professor Fleming offered an answer, that these sexual acts are "a significant part of the content and meaning of the fall." That made me think, if these connotations and puns are there in the poem (which I'm not convinced of yet), would they also be extended to apply to same-sex relationships, or just restricted between relationships of the opposite sex?

Salwa Khoddam PhD
Professor of English Emerita
Oklahoma City University
Author of *Mythopoeic Narnia:
Memory, Metaphor, and Metamorphoses 
in The Chronicles of Narnia*
skhoddam at cox.net
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: John K Leonard 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:11 PM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

   Excellent point by Louis below. It might also be relevant that "seal" was a common early modern pun for sexual penetration (Donne uses it frequently). Much more plausible than the other pun that has so distracted us.

  John Leonard

  On 04/17/14, "Schwartz, Louis" <lschwart at richmond.edu> wrote 

        For me the key and most poetically brilliant touch—and it happens to come right before we’re told that the force of the “fallacious Fruit” with its “exhilerating vapor bland” is “exhal’d” out of the bodies of Adam and Eve—is the way that Milton has the narrator call Adam’s and Eve’s taking their “fill of Love and Loves disport” both the “seal” of “thir mutual guilt” and “The solace of thir sin [italics mine].”  “Seal” and “solace.”  A pact, a union, a broken union, a consolation, isolation, impression; “seis’d” and taken largely, nothing loath.  Sole alas, unsavory of itself, but also soul, associate soul, one heart one flesh one soul.  It’s a striking bit of overdetermination (it starts with the more conventional “seal” of guilt and then branches off unchecked from the addition of “solace”—and the further roving is supported by a series of puns and echoes).   




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