[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Wed Apr 13 13:52:56 EDT 2016

I wonder why Sam Johnson judged Sonnet 23 “a poor sonnet.” Maybe it was the
tangled syntax of this part:

Mine *as whom* washt from spot of *child-bed taint*, [ 5 ]

*Purification in the old Law* did save,

And such, as yet once more I trust to have

Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,

Came *vested* *all in white*, pure as her mind:

Is the following a correct parsing?

 The subject and predicate of the main clause are “Mine [*my* wife, not
Alcestis] . . . Came vested all in white . . . ,” with the predicate
turning up five lines after the subject. A pronoun must be implied: “as
[one] whom.” Grammatically, “washt from spot of child-bed taint “ is
parenthetical, with “washt” as a participle, not a predicate, and modifying
“whom” or the implied “one.” The relative clause is then “whom . . .
Purification in the Old Law did save.” Rearranged, then, “Mine, as [one]
whom purification in the Old Law did save, washt  from spot of child-bed
taint . . . came vested all in white.” “As” in line 5 seems to be a
preposition rather than a conjunction, and seems to mean “like,” although
Milton normally maintains the like-as distinction. Is there another way to
read “as” here? In line 7, “as” is a conjunction subordinating an adjective
clause that extends the periodic suspension between subject and verb.

Here is another “as whom” with implied pronoun (“they”): “in bulk as huge /
As whom the fables name of monstrous size.” But “as huge as” is a different

In line 6, “the Old” must be metrically elided to prevent a triple offbeat.
I’m sure Milton intended “th’Old.” Even so, it is excessively complex by
Johnson’s standards, with a falling inversion followed by a rising
inversion that includes an elision (/xx/xx//x/).

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