[Milton-L] finding the bad good

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Fri Apr 15 13:49:49 EDT 2016


Welcome back, John Creaser. Hope to hear more from you.

I hear (and, I suspect, John Leonard does too) a contrastive stress on
"Old" vs. the implied new--washed in the *mikveh* vs. washed in the
blood..  I'm surprised that John C. doesn't. But it's true that the weight
given to "Old" will determine which type of pairing/inversion one hears,
xx// or /xx/. Either is acceptable in Attridge-style scansion of the line.

On Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 3:01 PM, Richard A. Strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
wrote:

> Dear John Creaser,
>
> Thanks for your remarks.  There is a very elaborate conversation to be had
> here, and probably cannot be conducted properly in this format.  Perhaps an
> MLA or RSA session on "The Theories and Practices of Prosody"?
>
> You are right that I do not distinguish between stresses and "beats."  I
> think the latter a matter of performance -- which, for me, is an entirely
> different matter than meter.  I'm glad you agree on the "promotion" of
> 'in."  I might indeed lessen the weight and time given to "in" rather than
> "old," but, for me, that is neither here nor there with regard to the
> metrical pattern.
>
> As I scan the line, it is a pentameter because it has five feet -- that's
> what counts when one is counting in "classical" prosody.  And the feet are
> all, on my scansion, well-formed -- that is, they conform to the system (I
> am not sure about pyrrhics -- I tend to think that a metrical foot must
> include a stress -- but my mind remains open on that issue).
>
> RS
> ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on
> behalf of John Creaser [john.creaser at mansfield.ox.ac.uk]
> *Sent:* Thursday, April 14, 2016 1:46 PM
>
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad good
>
> I return from a few days away to find a lengthy thread of discussion in
> which my name is invoked several times (and very many thanks to John
> Leonard for his kind words, especially as I know he has reservations about
> my Attridgean approach to prosody). I haven't time to assimilate fully all
> the discussion, but the point I'd wish to emphasise is that nuances of
> prosody and of meaning are inseparable. In the line 'Purification in the
> old Law did save', it seems to me that the key point, unmentioned so far as
> I'm aware, is the weight to be given to 'old' (I take for granted the
> obvious running together of 'the' and 'old'). A reader such as Richard
> Strier who thinks in terms of the neo-classical prosody in which poets and
> critics thought they thought, while actually doing something very
> different, will tend to maintain regularity of feet by stressing 'in'. An
> Attridgean reader, open to the more flexible rhythms of Milton, will tend
> to create a stress-final pairing stressing 'old': 'PUR-if-i-CAtion in
> th'OLD LAW did SAVE'.  But Milton uses such pairings for expressive
> purposes, as in the emphatic contrast of: 'Illumine, what is LOW RAISE and
> support'. How much does the word 'old' justify such emphasis here? Milton
> normally denigrates the 'old law', seeing it annulled by the coming of
> Christ. But here he is not implying a 'new' law superior to the 'old' -- he
> has no reason to denigrate anything about his visionary lady. He is, it
> seems to me, more concerned that she is 'in' line with the law than that
> the law is 'old'.  I would, therefore, place a promoted stress on 'in' and
> a full stress on 'Law', but not give unusual weight to 'old'.
>
> The point is that differing prosodic methods are not here in conflict. But
> what is prosodically impossible is Richard Strier's reading
> 'PUR-if-i-CAtion IN the OLD LAW did SAVE'. One of the many limitations of
> the kind of prosody Richard adheres to is that it makes no distinction
> between a stress and a metrical beat. A Miltonic pentameter has five such
> beats -- I don't think there's a single exception -- though the number of
> spoken stresses may vary from as few as three to as many as eight (as in
> the famous line cited by John Leonard). But to my ears Richard's version
> seems to have six BEATS and is a very clumsy hexameter. I am sure this is
> not really how he hears it and would utter the line. Intuitively, Richard,
> would you not lessen the weight and time given either 'IN' or 'OLD'? And I
> think we would in fact agree in giving more to 'in' than to 'old'.
>
> All best,
>
> John Creaser
> ------------------------------
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on
> behalf of Richard A. Strier [rastrier at uchicago.edu]
> *Sent:* 14 April 2016 16:49
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad good
>
> I agree with John about the general principle but not the instance.  And I
> agree that the tone and rhetorical stance of Gregory's remarks are
> offensive.  However, I have addressed the issue of critics finding the bad
> good in an article on Donne's Holy Sonnets, in relation to which I found
> that strategy rampant.  See "John Donne Awry and Squint:  The 'Holy
> Sonnets,' 1608-10," *Modern Philology* 86 (May, 1989): 357-384.
>
> And as to bad lines in Milton, the less said about the elephant waving his
> lithe proboscis, the better, not to mention the more important bad line:
>  "Him who disobeys / Me disobeys."
>
> RS
>
> *From:* milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu] on
> behalf of John K Leonard [jleonard at uwo.ca]
> *Sent:* Thursday, April 14, 2016 10:23 AM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List
> *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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