[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

JCarl Bellinger dionhalic at gmail.com
Sat Apr 16 01:04:18 EDT 2016

"five little iambs in a row?" Oops  Hit the damn send button much too soon:
Dear colleagues please ignore the mess of an unfinished email I just now
sent. i'll fix it and send it tomorrow insha'Allah.

On Saturday, April 16, 2016, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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 Richards
> On Wednesday, April 13, 2016, 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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