[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Wed Apr 13 15:11:05 EDT 2016


Would Johnson have been annoyed by catching a whiff of Puritanism in the
way Milton uses "saint" and in the reference to OT law?

On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 2:51 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
wrote:

> I think Michael's scansion is the right one.  "Th' old" is a normal
> elision.
>
> So I would scan the line:  ' _ / _' / _' / ' ' / _ '
>
> This gives a normal inversion in the first foot (most common of all
> metrical variants in iambic pentameter) and a spondee in the 4th foot (not
> too weird).  The metrical stress on "in" is required.
>
> Cheers,
> RS
> ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on
> behalf of Schwartz, Louis [lschwart at richmond.edu]
> *Sent:* Wednesday, April 13, 2016 1:23 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23
>
> Michael,
>
>
>
> That’s very good!  I’d add two things:
>
>
>
> 1)      I think the elided syllable could be the second one in
> “purification” instead, which might not have pleased Johnson, but allows
> for a somewhat less complex metrical reading of the line
> [/x/xx//x/]—although I actually prefer the rhythm of the line without
> elision.  And maybe Milton intended the irregularity in number?
>
> 2)      You are right that Johnson probably did not like the long
> syntactic tangle, and I imagine he also did not like the way it delays the
> predicate until after the end of the octave violating a structural
> expectation.  The end-stopped line break at “restraint” is brilliant to my
> ears, however, because of the way it both fulfills the restraint of the
> form on the level of the rhyme and also marks the moment at which Milton’s
> syntax pushes past it (ending one part of the sentence only to be followed
> immediately by the bigger syntactic ending introduced in the next line—and
> right on that first syllable).  And I like the way the twists and
> stretching in the syntax lends energy to the ricocheting in time, from the
> remembered moment of the dream, back to the biblical past, and then
> headlong forward into a hoped for Christian afterlife, before then
> returning to the night and the bedroom.  When he finally gets back to the
> dream at “came,” the imagined spouse is imbued with all of that history,
> theological and typological resonance, and longing.
>
>
>
> Louis
>
>
>
> ===========================
>
> Louis Schwartz
>
> Professor of English
>
> Chair, English Department
>
> University of Richmond
>
> 28 Westhampton Way
>
> Richmond, VA  23173
>
> Office:  Ryland Hall 308
>
> Phone:  (804) 289-8315
>
> Email:  lschwart at richmond.edu
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [mailto:
> milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] *On Behalf Of *Michael Gillum
> *Sent:* Wednesday, April 13, 2016 1:53 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* [Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23
>
>
>
> 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
> situation.
>
>
>
> 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/).
>
>
>
> Michael
>
>
>
>
>
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