[Milton-L] Who would not sing for Ralph?

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Wed Sep 30 14:39:32 EDT 2015

Oh, bad!!!! Even M would have winced at that one.

From: John K Leonard 
Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 9:58 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Who would not sing for Ralph?

It was that fatal and perfidious bark

On 09/30/15, john rumrich <rumrichj at gmail.com> wrote: 

  ​It's the time of term when I have no time, and yet this year managed to read a novel, Speak, by Louisa Hall, out just this past summer.  It features among other narrative threads extracts from the diary of Mary Bradford, a woebegone 13 year old pilgrim on board a ship heading to the new world, accompanied by her parents and the man she is supposed to marry.  She smuggles her beloved dog Ralph on board because she cannot bear to leave him behind, but the dog is then swept away in a storm at sea.  The girl is devastated, and the surprisingly sympathetic man she is being forced to marry alone attempts to console her for her loss.  But being unable to say much on his own, he chooses a book of poems to read from to the homesick girl sunk in her grief:

  "Ralph dead ere his prime (he said), but must not go unwept.

  Heart caught in writer's chest, and awful confusion . . . . Felt tears hotly rising: nearly sent Whittier away, for did not want him to witness my sorrow.  But he faced out to sea. Did not gape at my tears, but spoke only of Ralph's love for green lawns and driving afield in the morning, battening flocks whilst the dew was still fresh.  Found myself caught by remembrance, of Ralph going forth, guarding our meadow, standing on hilltops.  His bark, and the weight of his lean.  Whittier continued, and I awash  in desire for the place that we lost.  For flowers of our home: amaranthus, jessamine.  For his body under the sea.  For Ralph, on deck being seasick and vomiting, yet looking homewards with sorry expression.  For his familiar body swept away by the waves. For Ralph, being still with us."

  I can't count the many ways that this passage works within the larger story but was particularly taken by the way sympathy for a character's wrenching sorrow somehow coinhabits with gentle mirth in these sentences and those that follow.  It may be a readerly experience reserved for those who know their Milton.  So I thought I'd share it here with a recommendation for the novel.

  John Rumrich 


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