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

Horace Jeffery Hodges horacejeffery at gmail.com
Sun Apr 17 19:27:45 EDT 2016


I'd want to leave open both possibilities. but in either case, Milton's
views on the holy, the unclean, the clean, and the common would be
(potentionally) relevant to a poem of this sort.

Jeffery Hodges

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 3:22 PM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> Well, one often tries to leave open the possibility that the speaker of a
> poem is not simply to be equated with the author.  Harold Skulsky's reading
> calls for us to speak of Milton's "surrogate" in the poem.
>
> But insofar as you regard the speaker and Milton as equivalent, feel free
> to answer for Milton.  (Milton in communication with whatever audience you
> imagine he was trying to reach.)
>
>
>
> 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: 04/17/2016 03:21PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] finding the bad in what you find good, installment
> 3
>
>
> 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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>
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