[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Wed Apr 13 16:43:49 EDT 2016


I realize there are different types of syllable reduction, but I use the
term "elision" to include all of them. To me, it means recognizing that
poets from the mid-16th to the late18th centuries intended to meet a
standard of ten *syllables-that-count* for iambic pentameter. Feminine
endings don't count. Syllables where vowels adjoin or are separated by
continuant consonants may count or not depending on what the meter
requires. For example, "Heaven" for most poets can count as either one or
two syllables.

I don't know how much elision affected the way Milton performed his verses.
It affects my own performances only slightly, but I think one should hurry
and de-emphasize those syllables a bit out of respect for an established
formal convention.

Michael


On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 4:05 PM, Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu>
wrote:

> Michael:  Yes that “double take” at “restraint” is just what’s so artful
> about it.
>
>
>
> You may be right that he intended 10 syllables, and he certainly wrote the
> line in a way that lends itself to one elision or the other.  And Richard
> is right that if the elision is on “th’Old,” there’s some pressure to
> stress “in” against normal pronunciation (there’s also pressure to demote
> the stress on “th’Old”).  As a matter of expressive possibility, however,
> the 11 syllable version of the line has some power (a matter of performance
> choice in recitation).  My impulse is to notice the opportunity for
> metrical restraint written into the line and then choose not to accept the
> invitation.  The very fact that either elision makes for one or another
> kind of awkwardness, and that the other choice is irregularity, probably is
> again part of what turned Johnson off.  But I don’t see the need to try and
> shoehorn every line into strictness.  Sometimes irregularity is the more
> meaningful move.  And the poem is hardly a tidily conventional one in any
> number of other ways, anyway.  Both restrained and excessive.
>
>
>
> I like a version of the line like the one John has just posted, but
> without even trying to push the line into feet:  [/xx/xxx//x/]
>
>
>
> 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 3:04 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23
>
>
>
> Thanks, Louis.
>
>
>
> You are correct that "purif-" could be elided. I hadn't thought of that.
> Milton does indulge in the so-called double trochee--or here, it would be a
> triple one. But I doubt he intended 11 syllabic places; he's pretty strict
> about that. The typography of Poems 1673 is less careful about showing
> elisions-- for example, in #23 there is a monosyllabic "Heaven" spelled
> with two E's, whereas in PL this hardly occurs.
>
>
>
> I like your point about the delayed predicate breaking over the 8-9
> juncture. It is more disruptive than the usual slightly off-center Miltonic
> volta. But otherwise the form of #23 is relatively tidy, and at "restraint"
> we *think* we have a normally-placed boundary.
>
>
>
> On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 2:23 PM, Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu>
> wrote:
>
> 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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