[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Apr 14 10:19:42 EDT 2016

Most of us are too old to change our minds on verse theory--there are three
main paradigms that don't communicate with each other. Like Creaser, I
follow the Attridge paradigm.

In Attridge, a normal pentameter has five beats, and beats do not always
correspond exactly to linguistic stresses. I agree with John Leonard's
scansion, /xx/xx//x/, with "th'Old" as the third beat syllable (counting-as
one syllable). To  perform this interpretation, one would emphasize "Old"
(it has contrastive stress) and linger over "Old ^ Law" so that both
stressed syllables register as beats.

However, it can be read as /xx/x/x/x/ (nearly Richard Strier's), with
"th'Old" as the fourth offbeat syllable, linguistically stressed but
metrically subordinated. To perform this interpretation, you would linger
over "in" so it can register as a beat (though unstressed). Then you would
hurry over "Old" so that "Law" realizes the fourth beat. The principal
difference is in timing. I prefer the former interpretation because it is
more natural and expressive of meaning.

In Attridge, iambic inversions take two forms: falling (/xx/) and rising
(xx//), both beginning on an odd syllable. You could say "A trochee must be
followed by an iamb and a pyrrhic foot by a spondee," but this is just
adding baggage. Rising inversions like "*to her glad ^ hus*band gave" are
somewhat ambiguous and may be forced into an iambic alternation. It is
really a matter of taste, but one should consider how important to meaning
is the third syllable in the stress sequence ssSS ("glad," "Old").


On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 6:14 PM, Gardner Campbell <
gardner.campbell at gmail.com> wrote:

> As a side note, it's possible that instances such as these were what
> Hopkins tried to theorize as "sprung rhythm." The line of monosyllables
> John Leonard quotes could be considered as pentameter while recognizing
> that the life of the line (Hopkins might have called it the line's
> "instress") consists almost entirely of stress. The line from Sonnet 23
> would be sprung as well, but in a manner closer to traditional prosody
> while not specifically conforming to it, especially not as said aloud.
> Gardner
> On Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 5:34 PM, John K Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:
>> For Richard: So would you scan the line with six stresses? (PURificATion
>> IN th'OLD LAW did SAVE)? The scansion I suggested (trochee, iamb, pyrrhic,
>> spondee, iamb) preserves the traditional five (pyrrhic balancing spondee)
>> and so would better fit the expectations of iambic pentameter. That said, I
>> do think Milton is willing to go beyond five stresses in a line when he
>> wants to. "Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death"
>> (2.621) has 8 stresses to my ear, and the internal rhymes urges us to give
>> full weight to the rhyming words. But I just do not hear the stress on "IN"
>> that you hear in "Purification in the old law". I hope I do not sound
>> dogmatic. I think there can be more than one right way of scanning a line.
>> I think it was De Quincey who said that a prosodist can be put down with
>> shame by "another man" reading the line with a different emphasis, and I
>> have heard Milton read beautifully by many different people (including and
>> especially John Creaser). Like you, I have some reservations about the
>> Attridge system. I think it has the potential to be as schematic and
>> reductive and reifying as the prosodic system it would supplant. But in
>> Creaser's hands it is a supple and versatile tool, and Creaser is quite
>> aware that poets in our period "thought in terms of" feet, but thinking in
>> terms of is not the same as procrustean prescription. I think it was
>> Puttenham who used the phrase "something like an iamb". That "something
>> like" is a salutory reminder that prosody should be descriptive, not
>> prescriptive. The danger with any system in my view (even Attridge's) is
>> that it can become an end in itself rather than a tool to facilitate
>> description. Creaser is wonderful on the line "Shoots invisible virtue even
>> to the deep".  Eighteenth-century editors recognized that the line was
>> mimetic of rapid movement. When you are flying at the speed of light you
>> don't have time to count pedantic feet!
>> All best,
>> John
>> On 04/13/16, *"Richard A. Strier" * <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:
>> I disagree with Creaser with regard to foot prosody, which is what all
>> poets of our period thought and wrote in terms of.  But that is a MUCH
>> longer discussion.
>> As to the particular line in question, I really do think that we must
>> consider "in" as receiving metrical stress.  The reason for this is not
>> just to eliminate some excessive weirdness, but also because there IS in
>> fact a difference in stress between "tion" and "in," however small.  As Tim
>> Steele points out in his terrific book on formal effects in poetry, all
>> that is needed to produce a metrical pattern is *some* difference
>> between syllables.  (This is why the old Trager and Smith "levels of
>> stress" prosody -- which bedeviled Arnold Stein's book on Herbert -- was so
>> unhelpful with regard to meter, however useful it may have been with regard
>> to performance).
>> Cheers,
>> RS
>> Richard Strier
>> Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
>> Editor, *Modern Philology*
>> Department of English
>> University of Chicago
>> 1115 E. 58th St.
>> Chicago, IL 60637
>> ------------------------------
>> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on
>> behalf of John K Leonard [jleonard at uwo.ca]
>> *Sent:* Wednesday, April 13, 2016 2:52 PM
>> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
>> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23
>> Adrian Poole has a lovely reading of this sonnet, which he discusses
>> (alongside Euripides' *Alcestis)* in *Tragedy: Shakespeare and the Greek
>> Example *(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987)., pp. 148-9. He is especially
>> good on "the massively recalcitrant syntax of the lines beginning 'Mine as
>> whom'", which he relates to the dreamer's wish that the dream not end (the
>> sentence refuses to let go, as dreamers do, when they decide, even in
>> sleep, to keep dreaming). Johnson probably disliked the way the sentence
>> continues into the sestet, refusing the "restraint" of strong punctuation
>> at the end of the octave, but "without restraint" tells us that Milton knew
>> exactly what he was doing and the main verb "Came" is perfectly timed and
>> placed to signal the dreamer's refusal to let go of his vision.
>> As for the scansion, I think problems arise only if we insist on imposing
>> reified feet or (worse) confuse elision with synaloepha. Milton in his
>> mature verse rarely "elides" a syllable in the sense of cutting it out. He
>> prefers to melt two vowels together. I think this is what happens with "the
>> old Law" where "the old" is a slur rather than an aggressively lopped
>> monosyllable ("th'old"). We mangle the line if we start lopping syllables
>> off (a mistake Johnson makes when scanning Milton in his four *Rambler*
>> papers on *Paradise Lost*).  To prune "Purification" to "Pur'fication"
>> (and I recognize that Louis was not advocating that) would be to scan with
>> Midas' ears.  I don't hear any stress on "in". If we are going to use
>> neoclassical terms, I would scan trochee, iamb, pyrrhic, spondee, iamb
>> (PURifiCATion in thEOLD LAW did SAVE). But John Creaser has argued that
>> neoclassical foot prosody is a crude instrument for reading Milton, and
>> this line lends some support to his view.
>> John Leonard
>> On 04/13/16, *Michael Gillum *<mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:
>> 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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