[Milton-L] No antidote

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Sun Apr 20 19:40:40 EDT 2014

Harold:  Thank you for that clarification.

In my original post I didn't say that the fact I hear sexual connotations in "seal" in this context suggests that it's a pun--not that I thought carefully about that; it's just not what I was trying to say.  I did say, and I still believe, that the pair of phrases sets off certain available trains of thought that are supported by a series of puns and echoes, some of which I listed or suggested in my own string of word play.  I think there's a complex of sound echoes around the key words in the phrases ("seal" and  "solace") and various relevant senses arise along its chains of sound.  Some of these senses are legal, some sexual, etc.

I hope that makes my position, at least, a little clearer.


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 Harold Skulsky [hskulsky at smith.edu]
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 4:01 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] No antidote

I may be rushing in here where angels fear to tread, since (swamped as I am with undergraduate papers, etc.) I have not had the leisure to follow the "seal" discussion--and happened on a fragment of the discussion merely by chance. But I get the impression that people have been applying the term "pun" to stylistic phenomena that are not obviously puns in the usual 17th-c.sense (viz. paronomasia  or denominatio). Not all witty plays on words are puns. Some are merely innuendos.

On Sun, Apr 20, 2014 at 2:26 PM, Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>> wrote:
“ 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants.”

Thank you, John, for this beautifully phrased formulation.  I continue to be puzzled by people’s resistance to hearing the sexual valence of “seal” in this context, and the way the phrasing “seals” the sexual and the legal senses, not to mention the way it seals the solace and the sin.  There’s nothing “low” about the imagery or the conceptual content here.  What I find compelling and moving and intellectually interesting is the mixed affective quality of the language.  It’s one of those moments that makes me think of Thenot’s characterization of Colin’s elegy at the end of Spenser’s “November:”

Ay franke shepheard, how bene thy verses meint
With doolful pleasaunce, so I ne wotte,
Whether rejoice or weepe for great constrainte

Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315<tel:%28804%29%20289-8315>
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of John K Leonard

Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:44 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] No antidote

 Dismissing my case for a 'seal' pun, Carol Barton writes 'It must be a guy thing, John'. Oydin Uzakova then chimes in:

I consider the word "seal" here as a legal term of their being mutually bound in the original sin
Of course 'seal' is a legal term. I stated explicitly that the legal sense is primary. The question is whether there is a sexual sense in addition to the legal one (in a context that is clearly sexual). Several posters seem to assume that my point in arguing for a pun is to bring the tone down to a gutter level ('a guy thing, John'). The assumption behind such comments is that the legal and sexual spheres are entirely distinct and can never meet in wordplay that accords with epic decorum. I would certainly agree that the tone of Milton's lines is very different from Donne's elegies (at least the narrator's tone is different). But this moment in the poem is still a meeting of the legal and the sexual. Saint Augustine held that original sin passed from parent to child through the father's semen (a sexually transmitted disease). 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants. As he says in the next book:

All that I . . . shall beget
Is propagated curse. O voice once heard
Delightfully, Increase and multiply,
Now death to hear! For what can I increase
Or multiply, but curses on my head?
Who of all ages to succeed, but feeling
The evil on him brought by me, will curse
My head, Ill fare our ancestor impure.

Impure semen is 'a guy thing', but it infects the daughters too.

John Leonard

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