[Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment 3

Horace Jeffery Hodges horacejeffery at gmail.com
Sun Apr 17 15:19:22 EDT 2016


Gregory Machacek:  Should a Christian speaker speak of anything in the old
law as “saving”?  *Can* a Christian speaker use that theologically charged
word in such a context as this?  Isn’t almost the most fundamental
difference that Christians understand between the old law and the new law
that *nothing* under the old law *can* save (but can only convict)?

Jeffery Hodges: Shouldn't the questions be about Milton specifically rather
than a hypothetical Christian?

Jeffery Hodges

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 11:54 PM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> So, in connection with Jeffery’s comment, I’ll take what was going to be
> installment 4 and offer it as installment 3.
>
> To Jeffery:  Please know that I’m not opposed to reading “old” as carrying
> the semantic weight that you propose it could carry (and therefore,
> prosodically, pyrrhic spondee).  But to the extent that one does place a
> vocal stress on “old,” as John C. has remarked, one implies a contrast (as
> you yourself point out, with the new law), and that contrast is one that
> the poem doesn’t (explicitly, at least) reference.  All I’m saying is that
> with “th’old law” one has to make a choice between two options, both of
> which are bad:  1) downplay the word, in which case it’s filler, or 2)
> stress it, in which case it implies a contrast that no other portion of the
> poem explicitly picks up—one half of a contrast that kind of hangs there
> without its other half.
>
> Now to everyone: But the old law and the new law bear on another thing
> that’s troublesome about this line.  Let me get to it through a series of
> questions, questions that I put to the list in all sincerity (I genuinely
> want to hear people’s answers), even though you will soon see they are also
> tendentious.
>
> In English, to speak of an Israelite woman who had completed her post
> child-birth purification ritual, is the expression that one would choose
> (if one weren’t under the exigency of rhyme) to say that she had been
> “saved”?  My first question is just that:  is what the Levitical post
> child-birth purification ritual does well described, in English, as
> “saving” a woman?  And not even “saving” her from uncleanliness, which is
> to my ears itself an awkward enough expression, but “saving” her full-stop
> (since by this stage of the poem she doesn’t need to be “saved” from
> impurity; she’s in the previous line already been described as “washt” from
> that).  Is what purification in the old law does well expressed as to
> “save”?
>
> And now I’ll ask a more pointed version of that same question.  Should a
> Christian speaker speak of anything in the old law as “saving”?  *Can* a
> Christian speaker use that theologically charged word in such a context as
> this?  Isn’t almost the most fundamental difference that Christians
> understand between the old law and the new law that *nothing* under the
> old law *can* save (but can only convict)?
>
> You can likely see where these questions are driving.  I think this is one
> of these cases where rhyme constrained an author to “express things
> otherwise, and for the most part worse, then else he would have expressed
> them.”  I think the dimension of the dream image that Milton is trying to
> describe in these two lines (When I saw my late espoused saint in a dream
> she appeared to me to be pure) brings in its trail, given one of the words
> Milton uses to describe that purity, a very theologically discordant
> assertion—that purification in the old law saves—and that discordance comes
> about largely just because Milton needs another –ave rhyme (it’s a sound
> that has relatively few rhyme words) to complete his octave.
>
> P.S.  It’s becoming clear to me that I am going to have simultaneously to
> demonstrate why sonnet 23 is a poor poem *and* defend engaging in such an
> enterprise at all, since we have both conversations running through this
> thread.  Why would anybody even engage in such a perverse undertaking as to
> demonstrate that a poem many people report as finding profound and touching
> is “in fact” poor? So, as a rapid-fire set of answers to this:
>
> “If a poem can be read meaningfully it is good, and irregularity can be
> meaningful. Bad verse should simply be ignored, not labored over. Our role
> is to enhance appreciation, not diminish it.”
>
> from Hugh R.  One, I agree whole-heartedly that irregularity can be
> meaningful.  I’m not looking for regularity in “Purification in”; I’m
> looking *either* for regularity or for meaningful irregularity and
> finding that “Purification in” is not a meaningful irregularity, but simply
> a weak stretch within the overall rhythm.  Two, we can’t ignore bad verse
> and enhance appreciation of good without a prior determination of which is
> which, so evaluation was at *some* stage presumably a necessary
> activity.  Three, I’d want you to know that I spend 90% of my work life
> believing in and trying to achieve precisely that ideal that you articulate
> of enhancing people’s appreciation of literature.  But four, we’re all
> adults here; if the flaws I point out in sonnet 23 aren’t flaws, they won’t
> diminish the appreciation of this sonnet of anyone here.  Five, if they
> *are* flaws, pointing them out might come with the compensating value of
> enhancing readers’ appreciation of better composed passages.  (There's a
> sixth and lastly that wouldn't be quick, so I'll look for another occasion).
>
>
>
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
>
>
> -----milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
> From: Horace Jeffery Hodges
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu
> Date: 04/16/2016 04:46PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment
> 2
>
> Greg Machacek: In fact, there isn’t an old law and a new law; there’s an
> old covenant (of the law) and a new covenant, of grace.  “Old Law” is
> redundant; the word “Law” all by itself would have conveyed the notion
> old.  “Old” here is what in newspaper verse we can recognize as filler.
>
> Jeffery Hodges: But one finds in the New Testament these opposing
> expressions: "old law" vs. "new law" and "law of works" vs. "law of
> grace," and they are used throughout the Christian tradition all the way
> down to our time. The term "old" need not be considered mere "filler."
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