[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

JCarl Bellinger dionhalic at gmail.com
Sat Apr 16 00:43:29 EDT 2016

I agree with Richard Strier that we would do well (but this is my wording
not his) we would do well to be recognizing the metrical foot mwhen
approaching the scansion of the 17th c. Eng pentameter line. For one thing
the poets, not infrequently as I read, will set out five little iambs in a
row, and set them out so baldly they become a kind of
tongue-in-cheek emblem of what Milton, with elegant dismissiveness, refers
to in Of Education as "the prosody of a verse, which they could not but
have hit on before among the rudiments of Grammar."

_demands_ we notice the prosodic wit

because that's simply how versification was taught in the schools, "always
& everywhere" as I assume

What poet or actor or educated reader from  Spenser to Milton would gainsay
M's formulation that metrical verse –line by line by line– is a matter of
"fixed feet & syllables?" In the English iambic pentameter the fixed feet
is five, the fixed syllables is two per foot. I assume this simply is how
"the prosody of a verse" was everywhere taught in the schools up to, if not
well beyond, Milton's generation. "I do not mean the prosody of a
verse" says Milton "which they could not but have got by now in
the rudiments of grammar."

own view Is substantially the same I think as Richard'smatter of
recognizing the 17th century recognition 'seeing the feet'
of 17th-century of the Olympic pentameter line is substantially the same as

On Wednesday, April 13, 2016, Gardner Campbell <gardner.campbell at gmail.com>

> 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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