[Milton-L] is "egypt, divided by the river nile" a poor line of verse, then?

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Apr 14 13:48:40 EDT 2016


"Egypt, divided by the river Nile" could find a place in *The Stuffed Owl *
or* Peri Bathous *for its stupefying blandness, but, honestly, I never
noticed it before.

Also, am I the only one who finds Milton's occasional lapses into pedantic
diction, the lithe proboscis and the parsimonious emmet, charming in their
weirdness?

On Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 1:14 PM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> There's nothing to forgive in your calling me out.  Though I'm probably
> less disingenuous than (as Richard Strier puts it) offensive.  I'm half in
> and half out of the "we," (probably a good bit more than half in,
> actually); and I'm trying to get myself fully out by making "we" "you lot."
>
> But do this.  Have the most prosodically adept member of your department
> who is not a Miltonist read the sonnet aloud to you.  And give that person
> several cracks at it so that he or she has every opportunity to get breath
> and tongue around those lines.  Listen.  Then tell me whether the syntax
> strikes you a "massively recalcitrant" or just jumbled to the point of
> choppiness (or even incomprehensibility).  I think you're imposing on the
> lines a beauty that is only available in silent interpretation and that
> they don't carry if one voices the poem.  You, a skilled voicer and Milton
> partisan, can probably get enough of the silent interpretation into your
> delivery to convince yourself that you're hearing massive recalcitrance.
> But 5-10 (and especially the rhythm of 6) are a mess that even the lovely
> closing can't redeem, because even one poor line in a poem as short as a
> sonnet makes it a poor sonnet.
>
> But thanks are due for your bothering with me despite my offensiveness.
>
> Ok, so can we get it confirmed by all of y'all that "Egypt, divided by the
> river Nile" is a poor line of verse?
>
> Because the other candidate for a bad line--"casting a dim religious
> light"--got championed within fourteen minutes of its being proposed as a
> poor line.
>
>
>
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
>
>
> -----milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
> From: John K Leonard
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu
> Date: 04/14/2016 11:25AM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet
>
> 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> 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 wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> From: Michael Gillum
> Sent by: 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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