[Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Sat Apr 19 18:09:53 EDT 2014

Dear Stella,

My point is that in the Donne poem, the reference is unmistakable-- not at all hidden.  I think this is the way such things work in general in Renaissance poetry.  The fact that Donne uses "seal" as he does in his poem says nothing at all about Milton's use of the word.

Richard Strier
Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
Editor, Modern Philology
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 E. 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Stella Revard [srevard at siue.edu]
Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 4:34 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Richard, didn't you quote Donne's "There where my hand is set, my seal shall be"?  What does he want readers to understand "seal" there as meaning, and what sort of figurative usage does it involve?  Of course Donne rhymes with Pun, while Milton only assonates with it.

Methinks there have been quite interesting, ingenious, and learned posts in this thread.
Throwing an apple, as the Oxford dons used to say, can start some interesting hares.  Or, as Swift said, Vive la bagatelle.

On 04/19/14, "Richard A. Strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:

"The seal" there means "the confirmation."  It's meaning is conceptual, not descriptive.  Milton's already mentioned "love's disport," and is making a different point.

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Schwartz, Louis [lschwart at richmond.edu]
Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 3:54 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

I'm not convinced about "fallacious," either, although I'll reserve final judgement until I've read John Savoie's essay.  And of course the search for puns can go to far, but I'm not sure I see why suggestion of sexual intercourse in sexual "seal" isn't obvious in this context.  It's not there when we're told the Son will seal up Hell, but why not in the Book 9 line?


Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Richard A. Strier [rastrier at uchicago.edu]
Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 4:38 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

I don't believe there is a sexual pun on "seal" any more than on "fallacious."  I think the hunt for such puns is, to use a word that Milton does pun on, unfruitful.  In general, I think the search for sexual meanings in Renaissance poetry has been overdone (especially in Donne, but also in Shakespeare).  I think that when a Renaissance poet wants to make use of a sexual meaning, s/he makes it very clear -- "the very prick of noon," etc.  Often "to die" really just means to cease having biological life.


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Uzakova, Oydin Yashinova [oydin.uzakova at okstate.edu]
Sent: Saturday, April 19, 2014 2:51 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

The lines that Louis Schwartz recently referred to stood out to me as well, when I was re-reading this section for another thread.  It is worth noting that Milton does not use the noun "seal" in this sense anywhere else in the poem: he only resorts to it in the sense of the animal "seal(s)."  Other than that, Milton uses the word "seal" as a verb on 2 occasions: when Gabriel threatens to drag Satan in chains back to Hell and "seal" him there to prevent another escape (4.960-64), and when, hurled through chaos by the Son, "Sin, and Death, and yawning grave" will "obstruct the mouth of Hell/For ever, and seal up his ravenous jaws" (10.633-37).  In both of these instances, the seal has negative connotations for those being "sealed" against their will (Satan in Hell and Hell's shut jaws), but promises a positive outcome for human beings (human redemption and immortality).

However, in the case of Adam and Eve, the "seal" has more legal connotations, as it binds them in "mutual guilt" and transgression against their creator, as well as in their postlapsarian fate: "There they their fill of love and love's disport/Took largely, of their mutual guilt the seal,/The solace of their sin" (1042-44).  Post-lapsarian sex has sealed their mutual crime of disobedience as conspirators of sorts, but also promises to provide some comfort to them in their time of trouble and uncertainty about their future. Moreover, sex has become such as "solace" for Adam and Eve in their postlapsarian state that Eve even considers committing suicide as a desirable way out of a potentially sexless marital relationship.  While she entertains the well-meaning idea of their abstaining from sex in order to prevent condemning the whole human race with their original sin, the image of a sexless marriage seems a much more frightening option for her than death in Book 10 (lines 973-79):

But if thou judge it hard and difficult,
Conversing, looking, loving, to abstain
>From love's due rights, nuptial embraces sweet;
And with desire to languish without hope,
Before the present object languishing
With like desire; which would be misery
And torment less than none of what we dread;

When postlapsarian Adam later contemplates one of the visions that Michael presents him with, he becomes relieved and joyful about the tents that revealed the continued existence of amorous delights and nuptial rites among postlapsarian human beings in Book 11 (lines 580-97):

                                            they on the plain
Long had not walked, when from the tents, behold,
A bevy of fair women, richly gay
In gems and wanton dress; to the harp they sung
Soft amorous ditties, and in dance came on:
The men, though grave, eyed them; and let their eyes
Rove without rein; till, in the amorous net
Fast caught, they liked; and each his liking chose;
And now of love they treat, till the evening-star,
Love’s harbinger, appeared; then, all in heat
They light the nuptial torch, and bid invoke
Hymen, then first to marriage rites invoked:
With feast and music all the tents resound.
Such happy interview, and fair event
Of love and youth not lost, songs, garlands, flowers,
And charming symphonies, attached the heart
Of Adam, soon inclined to admit delight,
The bent of nature;

This is another instance of our postlapsarian "roving" with Adam, only to be surprised by sin when Michael quickly sobers up happy Adam with an opposite moral assessment of the "tents": "Those tents thou sawest so pleasant, were the tents/Of wickedness" (11.607-08).  However, what is even more curious to me and applicable to our thread on Milton's ideas about sex and honorable roles of men and women in a relationship is the passage that juxtaposes good respectful women of "domestic honor" and those who are "bred only and completed to the taste/Of lustful appetence" (11.618-19):

For that fair female troop thou sawest, that seemed
Of Goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay,
Yet empty of all good wherein consists
Woman's domestic honor and chief praise;
Bred only and completed to the taste
Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance,
To dress, and troll the tongue, and roll the eye:

Michael also calls these women "fair atheists" (11.625).  While Adam does not seem to notice any difference in these postlapsarian human relationships, Michael certainly draws the distinction and warns him about deceivingly pleasant appearances of "wickedness."

While Milton was admirably one of the first poets to portray sex as pure and unfallen in Eden, he also took pains to ensure that it was part of Adam and Eve's nuptial marriage rites.


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> on behalf of Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu>
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 1:52 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

And yes to what James Fleming says.  This seems to me the basic value of the whole poem.  And it’s not just received ideas about sexuality or morality that are interrogated   The whole project of justification itself, I think, depends on the challenge to what’s received about it, which is why the poem even challenges what we seem to receive from it.  This bit of Adamic acuity in cluelessness suggests, very nicely how the poem works, inviting thought even as it seems to cut it off:
Apt the Mind or Fancie is to roave
Uncheckt, and of her roaving is no end….
The poem both checks and unchecks, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, in that light, that what seems like it’s the end of a conversation here (with its nice, tidy, lesson learned) turns out to be just prelude to a much more complicated and untidy discussion of exactly what has vexed us into further discussion once again.  There is nothing more “at hand” than the details of Adam’s experience of himself, his first apprehensions of life on earth and in Paradise, and finally his loneliness, desires, and erotic experience of Eve, which is what he goes on and on about over the next several hundred lines, offering us all sorts of complicating contexts and pretexts for what happens the next day (not to mention what has already happened and what we’ve already heard Eve say about some of the same things from her perspective—also the narrator’s earlier account of the love the two of them made, ah, the night before).
In the interest of further roving along these lines over into Book 9, I’d like to repeat something I brought up the last time Richard Strier invited us to consider the issue.  I don’t agree with him entirely that there’s no difference between the sex that Adam and Eve have before and after the fall, but in a crucial sense the fact that the two acts (or sets of acts) are more the same than we might conventionally imagine them or expect them to be does make a difference.  Milton’s poising of the two scenes against one another is a centrally powerful example of the challenging power of the poem.
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).
So where does that leave us?  Roving, I hope:  back to the bower, and then out of it to the bank and back again, and again.  As long as the heart “be still as loving/ And the moon be still as bright.”  Until the heart is stilled and we go no more, I suppose.
I’m looking forward to making time soon to read John Savoie’s essay, which sounds really interesting to me.
Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu <lschwart at richmond.edu>
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of JD Fleming
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:08 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Yes. The interest of this whole issue, it seems to me, is the intensity of the challenge that PL presents to received ideas about sexuality and morality--not the way in which it reproduces or conserves them. JD Fleming

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