[Milton-L] Syntax of Sonnet 23

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Sat Apr 16 11:55:53 EDT 2016


I'm not familiar with Milton's reference to "fixed feet." Where can I find

To those who think it obvious that the 16th- and 17th-c poets thought of
English verse as foot verse--please consider reading Derek Attridge,

Sidney, for example, says nothing about English feet, but name the meters
by their syllable-count. Iambic pentameter to Sidney was "our verse of ten
syllables."And "Now of versifying there are two sorts, the one ancient, the
other modern: the ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and
according to that framed his verse; the modern observing only number (with
some regard of the accent), the chief life of it standeth in that like
sounding of the words, which we call rhyme."  "

On Sat, Apr 16, 2016 at 1:04 AM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com>

> "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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