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

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Apr 18 08:47:25 EDT 2016


The word "save" effectively reinforces the typological significance of
purification rituals. Milton might be using it with an implied "according
to their belief," or perhaps with a touch of irony. But some Protestants
believed that holy persons in the Hebrew Bible actually could have been
saved by grace but through the influence of "types" on their faith.
Consider this from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament, by
promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the passover, and other
types and ordinances, which did all fore-signify Christ then to come, and
were for that time sufficient to build up the elect in faith in the
promised Messiah, by whom they then had full remission of sin, and eternal
salvation. (Answer to Question 34)

Michael

On Sun, Apr 17, 2016 at 7:27 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges <
horacejeffery at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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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