[Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet, installment 5, "mine"

Salwa skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Apr 23 12:37:42 EDT 2016


Carol writes: "I don't think Milton is as concerned with the technical
excellence of the sonnet (the vehicle) as he is with conveying the dark
wonder he is experiencing as a result of his experience (the tenor). It is
one of the few, and perhaps the most revealing and touching revelations of
Milton the man, of his human frailty, that we have, in the entire canon.
Forgive my sentimentality, but it's his heart holding the pen, this
time--not his head."

 

I agree with Carol completely. Just as not every line should sing, not every
comparison should be extended in perfect parallelism, especially  in poetry.
I think the focus of the sonnet is on the action "Brought to me. . . to me
from the grave," the clear common denominator between Alcestis and his wife,
aside from the veiling of the two. It is the experience of her brought back
from the grave that inspires him to write the sonnet, his own poignant
experience. Although one can read that his wife is brought back by "Christ,
God's great Son by mercy," as Carol suggests, Milton leaves the efficient
cause up to the reader. 

 

But how much of the implied classical myth should be brought into the
interpretation of the sonnet: Alcestis's (Katherine's) sacrifice, Admetus's
(Milton's or the speaker's) selfishness, and therefore guilt?

Salwa

 

 

 

 

From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu]
On Behalf Of Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM
Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2016 10:40 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet, installment 5, "mine"

 

I would defend Milton against your . . . perverseness (said with tongue in
cheek) by pointing out that he was writing, not in my 21st century English
class (where even contemporary analogies seem to be problematic), but for
himself, in this instance (exploring, I think, a phenomenon he found at once
exciting and distressing) and at a time and in a place where his "fit
audience" contemporaries were as steeped in classical mythology and the
Bible as he was. Exegetes habitually respond to questions about biblical
stories by pointing out that the scriptural scribes skipped a lot of the
details in their accounts of this or that event because they were common
knowledge--for example, if the earth was peopled only by Adam, Eve, Cain,
Abel, and Seth, and Cain slew Abel--where did the women come from whom Cain
and Seth married to engender the rest of us? Today, we might look at Sonnet
23 and ask, "Alcestis? Alcestis who??"--but the reference and the parallels
(and anti-parallels) would have been immediately available to Milton's
reader, as perhaps an allusion to post-lapsarian Eve and Pandora might be to
you and me. (Before the Fall, at the time to which the passage you quoted
from PL refers, it's almost insulting--chauvinistic!--to compare Eve to
Pandora--so Milton is careful to explain: "I'm not talking about Pandora as
the cause of all our woe--I mean Pandora as the beloved of Olympus, showered
with blessings, before they gave her that bloody box!")

 

Thus: "Alcestis is dead because she gave her life for her husband, and
brought back from the grave by Jove's great son Herakles by brute force, and
is pale and faint,  whereas Katherine is dead because she gave her life
bringing my child into the world, and has been brought back from the grave
by Christ, God's great Son by mercy, and is free of all blemishes and
taints, as witnessed by the fact that she is "vested all in white, pure as
her mind," and though her face is veiled, "Love, sweetness, goodness, in her
person shin'd / So clear, as in no face with more delight."

 

I don't see the same problem that you do, Greg.

 

As I said in one of my earliest posts in this thread, in this particular
instance, I don't think Milton is as concerned with the technical excellence
of the sonnet (the vehicle) as he is with conveying the dark wonder he is
experiencing as a result of his experience (the tenor). It is one of the
few, and perhaps the most revealing and touching revelations of Milton the
man, of his human frailty, that we have, in the entire canon. Forgive my
sentimentality, but it's his heart holding the pen, this time--not his head.

 

Best to all,

 

Carol Barton 

 

 

From:  <mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> Gregory Machacek 

Sent: Saturday, April 23, 2016 10:55 AM

To:  <mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu> John Milton Discussion List 

Subject: Re: [Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet, installment 5, "mine"

 

What you sketch below, Carol, is certainly a meaningful contrast that one
can generate from the material that Milton puts into his sonnet, and in
fact, I have little doubt that it is the contrast that Milton would like for
us to mentally assemble from his material, and indeed that it is in some
ways, as you say, an obvious contrast to be made between the case of
Alcestis and the case of (let's say) Katherine.  But it's not what Milton
says.  It would make for a better sonnet if actually made the comparison
that you present him as making.

Here's Miton when he's effectively managing a comparison and contrast
simile: 

What day the genial Angel to our sire 

Brought her in naked beauty more adorned, 

More lovely, than Pandora, whom the Gods 

Endowed with all their gifts, and O! too like 

In sad event, when to the unwiser son 

Of Japhet brought by Hermes, she ensnared 

Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged 

On him who had stole Jove's authentick fire. 

 

1) For each of the terms in the comparison, we've got a word that actually
appears in the passage (her, Pandora), words of a sort that can be
contrasted (a pronoun and a proper name), and that stand as the foundation
for any other assertions that are going to be made of either of them.  What
are your two contrast words? Alcestis and mine, a proper noun and a
possessive pronoun--or Alcestis and an understood [her]. 2) The Pandora
passage says directly what are the points of comparison (lovely, adorned,
like in sad event) and what are the points of contrast:  more lovely, more
adorned.  By contrast, to get anything about [mywife] that even could
compare to something in Alcestis-any stated thing, not just a notion that
you derive out of what is stated-one has to slog through, and assign some
meaning to, "as whom washt from spot of child-bed taint" at least.  So is
that it?  Is Milton's wife washederfromspotofchildbedtaint than Alcestis?
After the "mine," Milton starts asserting some things about the dream image
of his wife, but they're not the kinds of things, the kinds of phrases, that
can serve as points of comparison with anything he'd said while describing
Alcestis.  True, all of the stuff on one side of the "mine" can be
theologically contrasted with all of the stuff on the other side of the
"mine," just as you do.  But that's what's happening:  you are comparing, on
some level outside the poem, notions toward wich the words in the poem
gesture.  You are not reading a poem that itself indicates how thing A and
thing B are different from one another. 3)  The Pandora passage doesn't
leave the reader to weave in a set of theological reflections from outside
what is stated in the poem (your agape, e.g.) in order to provide the
materials for the contrast.  It provides some things that one can directly
compare to one another:  loveliness, adornedness.  (Maybe this is just
another way of saying (2).)

So, if Milton had said "mine, rescued by agape" we'd have a phrase in the
poem that could serve as a contrast with the phrase "rescued by force."

Leave aside for a second the Alcestis/mine disconnect.  Just fill in these
blanks with a word "Alcestis is _______________, whereas Katherine is
________________."  Or fill in the blanks with parallel short phrases (from
the poem).  Or fill in the blanks with parallel long phrases.  I can do it
for Pandora:  Pandora is lovely, whereas Eve is more lovely.

Milton at his best, and sonnets at their best, start by saying what they
mean, and then are suggestive beyond that foundational meaning.  You're
letting Milton get away with stuff you wouldn't accept in a freshman essay!
If a student gave you an essay saying "Tommy's mom is named Doris, and my
mom is named Sharon.  Doris makes great lasagna, whereas mine is of the sort
who dances well." you'd tell that student to revise.  Get your terms of
comparison parallel!; either Doris and Sharon or Tommy's mom and mine.
Spell out to me more precisely what you regard as the comparison between
lasagna and dancing!  I know the comparison is somehow meaningful to you,
but your job is to make it meaningful to your reader. Why say your mom is
"of the sort who dances well"? Just crisply compare her dancing to Doris'
lasagna-making.

Milton's poem is so good a meaning-receptacle that you've stopped even
bothering to attend to your experience of it as a song-ette, which calls for
some minimal level of surface clarity.

Though worlds judge me perverse . . .


Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College



 <mailto:-----milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu>
-----milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu wrote: ----- 

To: "John Milton Discussion List" < <mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu>
milton-l at richmond.edu>
From: "Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM" 
Sent by:  <mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu>
milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu
Date: 04/22/2016 04:41PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet, installment 5, "mine"




I think you're being perverse in this instance, Greg (no insult intended),
because the contrast seems obvious to me, and turns on the implicit contrast
of the preceding stanza:

 

It's a compare and contrast simile--

 

My late espoused saint is like " Alcestis [brought] from the grave," and
just as "Joves great son [her] to her glad Husband gave," Christ rescued and
restored her to me, not "Rescu'd from death by force though pale and faint,"
but rescued by agape, whole and perfect, "washt from spot of child-bed
taint, Purification in the old Law," and saved by the sacrifice of the
Son--wherefore "as such, . . .  came vested all in white" (and so on).

 

>From that perspective, I suppose the veiling could be to signify that, saved
and purified, she is a bride of Christ--but as she is Milton's wife, that
would just further complicate the poem, unnecessarily. I think it's pretty
settled that she's veiled because her blind spouse has never actually seen
her face.

 

Best to all,

 

Carol Barton

 

 

From:  <mailto:Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> Gregory Machacek 

Sent: Friday, April 22, 2016 4:12 PM

To:  <mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu> John Milton Discussion List 

Subject: [Milton-L] milton's poor sonnet, installment 5, "mine"

 

I have three beefs against "Mine."  You'll get two of them in this post.
You'll also get (as looks like is becoming part of my method) one question
that is a sincere question, i.e. which isn't designed simply to point to a
fault, but is an authentic invitation for you to explain to me how you
construe the poem.   (The "save" question worked that way, and did elicit a
good answer (though an answer not without attendant problems of its own)).

"Mine" would seem intended to introduce some strong contrast between
Alcestis and Milton's late espoused saint.  It comes at a major transition
point-start of the second quatrain.  And prosodically, there's a reversal of
stress that would seem to assign it contrastive vocal emphasis:  by contrast
with Admetus' wife, who was thus and such, mine was so and so. 

1) The poem does not contain, however, the simple, go-to possessive pronoun
that would naturally serve as the solid point of opposition for this
contrastive "mine," namely "his."  In fact, working from the material the
poem does give us, we have elaborately to construct what ought to serve as
the balancing thought for "my wife, by contrast" in the following roundabout
formulation:  "my wife by contrast with Alcestis's glad husband's wife."
The "mine" wants a solid contrasting pronoun on which to plant its foot
(Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure), and it steps into a
bog instead.

2) Here's the sincere question:  what do you take the actual contrast itself
as being?  To me it seems there are two options, both of them bad.  A) by
contrast with Admetus' wife, who was pale and faint, mine came dressed in
white.  As a contrast, that's underwheming.  or B) by contrast with Admetus'
wife, who was pale and faint, mine came dressed in white as one whom, washed
from spot of child-bed taint, 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.  As a contrast, that's muddy.

--Y'all's grudging concession:  Yeah, now that I look at it, by placement
and prosodic emphasis "mine" promises a strong contrast, and nothing in the
poem crisply does in fact provide that contrast.

(By the way, these scripted concessions are designed 1) to summarize how
much of the critical case I've made so far and 2) to spur your rebuttals,
when you have them.  But they are not designed as a rhetorical stratagem by
which everyone who does not object will be counted in my camp.  The silent
majority will not be assumed to stand with Grump.  I have a positive
obligation to win adherents.  (So if I ever do make sense, please don't
hesitate to say so!)).


Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College 

  _____  

_______________________________________________
Milton-L mailing list
 <mailto:Milton-L at richmond.edu> Milton-L at richmond.edu
Manage your list membership and access list archives at
<https://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l>
https://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site:  <http://johnmilton.org/> http://johnmilton.org/ 

_______________________________________________
Milton-L mailing list
 <mailto:Milton-L at richmond.edu> Milton-L at richmond.edu
Manage your list membership and access list archives at
<https://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l>
https://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site:  <http://johnmilton.org/> http://johnmilton.org/

  _____  

_______________________________________________
Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at richmond.edu <mailto:Milton-L at richmond.edu> 
Manage your list membership and access list archives at
https://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20160423/f4b7a040/attachment-0001.html>


More information about the Milton-L mailing list