[Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet

LEEJACOBUS at aol.com LEEJACOBUS at aol.com
Thu Apr 14 11:58:17 EDT 2016


Gardner,
 
Standing in Chartres late in the afternoon, I quoted this line  to myself. 
Shallow? Not then, not now. 
 
Lee
 
 
In a message dated 4/14/2016 11:43:44 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,  
gardner.campbell at gmail.com writes:

I'm with John Leonard on this one. Right argument, wrong poem.  


So to demonstrate I am no mere fan-boy, here's my candidate for Bad  Milton.


I have always thought this line from Il Penseroso disappointingly  shallow, 
particularly from this poet:


"Casting a dim religious light"


Gardner







On Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 11:23 AM, John K Leonard <_jleonard at uwo.ca_ 
(mailto:jleonard at uwo.ca) > wrote:

Greg,   


I agree with your principle (there is such a thing as bad writing), but  
not the instance (this sonnet). I stand by my view that the "massively  
recalcitrant syntax" (Poole) is expressive of the speaker's state of mind,  though 
I take your point that critics do sometimes invoke "enactment" (and  other 
expressive devices) as a bolt hole. I think you have attached the  right 
protest to the wrong poem. I also find your rhetoric a bit  heavy-handed and 
(forgive me) disingenuous. When you write "Milton is, for  us, axiomatically 
incapable of having written a bad line of verse", what you  mean by "us" is 
"you lot." Since you "defy any one of [us] to instance a bad  line of verse 
from anywhere in Milton[']s oeuvre," let me rise to the  challenge with 
"Egypt, divided by the River Nile" (PL XII. 157).


All best,


John
 
 


On 04/14/16, Gregory Machacek <_Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu_ 
(mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu) > wrote:


 
 
 
 
Johnson probably  judged Sonnet 23 a poor sonnet because it is a poor 
sonnet.   
If one focuses  for the moment only on the two things that have so far come 
up, (1)  "Purification in the old Law did save" is a dud of a line, a 
clinker,  utterly unmusical.  In performance, one could hurry over it so that  one
’s auditors didn’t register how bad it was, but one can’t through any  
delivery make it sing. 
And, (2) the  tortured syntax in the center of the poem is just that, 
tortured syntax  (tortured in part for the worst of all reasons: just to get a 
fourth –ave  rhyme. (Most of the  things that go wrong in this poem go wrong 
as a result of Milton's vexing  himself for a fourth –ave rhyme)). 
Literary  criticism was healthier back in Johnson’s day when critics could 
simply  indicate places where poets, even otherwise great poets, fell  
short. 
Us, we're always  scribbling to save appearances.  We find--seemingly 
cannot but  find--tortured syntax mimetic of a dreamer grasping after a fleeting  
dream.  
The critical  catch-all is simply to assert some way in which an infelicity 
is actually  mimetic of the thing that is being described. 
(The knock  against evaluating literature is that such evaluations are 
subjective or  are merely a function of a given period’s standards of taste.   
But  how are these little interpretive rescues any less subjective than  
straightforward evaluative judgments, or our susceptibility to them any  less a 
function of our era’s standards of taste?) 
Attridge writes  his entire prosody, with an elaborate set of rules 
supposedly indicating  what can and cannot qualify as metrical, without once 
instancing a line  that is a poor verse because it fails to satisfy those rules. 
Any verse (by a  great poet) that does fail to satisfy the rules at worst 
only ever  “strains at the limits of metricality.”   With  sure returns of “
and isn’t that a brilliant stroke at just this moment in  the poem?” 
Milton is, for  us, axiomatically incapable of having written a bad line of 
 verse.  
Don't believe  me?  I defy any one of you to instance a bad line of verse 
from  anywhere in Milton’s oeuvre (after he stops telling us how old he was 
when  he wrote the poem) that some other one of you won't salvage as  “
wonderfully expressive” of this or that phenomenon that the line is  describing.  
90% of you literally won’t be able to think of a bad  line Milton wrote 
(really? he’s prosodically inerrant?).  And  anything that the other 10% of you 
propose 100% of you will stand ready to  explain as actually, given what the 
line is describing, brilliantly  expressive of that thing. 

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist  College


-----_milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu_ (mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu) 
 wrote: -----  
 
To:  John Milton Discussion List <_milton-l at lists.richmond.edu_ 
(mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu) >
From: Michael Gillum  
Sent by: _milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu_ 
(mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu) 
Date: 04/13/2016  01:55PM
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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