[Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good
skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Apr 16 06:19:09 EDT 2016
Thanks for your opinions which are always fascinating and thought provoking.
I suppose I have a more sanguine approach to literary works and other art
works in general. As you know, there are flaws in great films, paintings,
and poetry. I agree that line 6 of Miltons 23rd sonnet is awkward and does
not follow the metrical scansion of the English iambic line. I read it thus:
PUR-i-fi-CA-tion IN the OLD LAW (technically, a dactyl +2 trochees + a
spondee). But my main point is that one may dilute the beauty of a poem or a
dance, for example, if one focuses on one very small part of it. Think of a
great performance of a ballerina doing pirouettes. Everything is perfection
in her alignment and extensions but she is slightly tilted to one side in
one of her pirouettes. Also, what if a photographer took an unfortunate shot
of her when she had just started to do the arabesque with her legs not
aligned yet and the position not completed? Or if he took a shot of her from
an uncomplimentary angle? Or Im sure you have seen in films that a
character has, for example disheveled hair in one frame, but in the next his
hair is different, etc.
Miltons sonnet is a successful example of the use of syncretism and
allusions. It also is deeply moving. Should it be considered a poor sonnet
for some weak lines? Not every line should sing. By the way I can see in my
mind this line put into a pretty dance: triple step to the right, two
steps to the left, and a chassé to the left (probably not a pretty dance
since Im not a good dancer.)
Awaiting your so what,
Salwa Khoddam, PhD.
Professor of English, Emerita
Oklahoma City University
From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu]
On Behalf Of Gregory Machacek
Sent: Saturday, April 16, 2016 12:56 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
Subject: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good
Ok, several admirers have now weighed in with emphatic and in some cases
detailed praise of Methought I saw.
Its now my burden to put more fully than I so far have the case for sonnet
23 being considered a poor sonnet. Sad task. First, theres little
likelihood that I will actually manage to dislodge such ardent and settled
affection. And say I were to succeed; what would have succeed in but
stripping some dear colleague of the joy he or she takes in this sonnet?
Still, Johnson meant something when he unhesitatingly and categorically,
indeed almost nonchalantly, labeled the poem poor. And I feel I have some
sense what he might have meant. So here goes.
Im going to work outward from what Ive called the rhythmic dud of line 6.
It is a dud. You just have to listen to Richardsons beautiful recital to
hear how rhythmicality, sustained otherwise throughout the entirety of the
sonnet, falters as it hits the vacuity of that over-rapid succession of
syllables, Purification in, that a voicer just cant do anything with.
Its not incorrect whats been said several times: that both an initial
trochee and a pyrrhic spondee are common deviations within the pentameter.
I think Laurel and myrtle and what higher grew could probably be marked
with the same scansion as this line. Then whats the problem here? Its
the five-syllable word. I know we generally ignore word boundaries when we
scan, but words longer four syllables assert themselves on the rhythm in
ways that shorter words dont. Here purification has to hurry its
syllables along to keep itself together as a word. No, not every line has
to sing; but this one gasps. /xx/x is a poor line opening when it is one
Will Miltons own practice elsewhere convince you? In the 10,000+ lines of
PL, he only once has a five-syllable word with this /xx/x pattern of
accentuation at the opening of a line. And thats not due simply to the
rarity of five-syllable words in general, for we have abominations
irreconcilable, inexorably, deliberation, illimitable, uninterrupted,
insuperable, insinuating, inseparably and half a dozen others. No, its
because he knows in general to stay away from /xx/x five-syllable words.
Moreover, in the single case where he does use an /xx/x word (Justification
towards God and peace), he more decisively returns to iambicity with the
sixth syllable than he does in Purification . . . (when its a disyllable,
towards is for Milton stressed on the first syllable).
Milton knows better than to do what he does in line 6 of Sonnet 23.
--All right, for heavens sakes, the first half of line 6 of sonnet 23, is
not, prosodically speaking, Miltons finest second (the flaw youre
highlighting lasts literally one second, Machacek!). So what?*
Well, this is getting long and its getting late, so the so what will have
*Sorry to speak on yalls behalf. Do feel free to tell me if you dont
grant me even as much as Ive argued for here.
Professor of English
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