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

Kemmer Anderson kanderso at mccallie.org
Sun Apr 24 22:22:19 EDT 2016

Greg, I like the person struggle across the age between one sonneteer to
another. I feel the same way more than sometimes when 5 out 14 are good
lines. In line 5& 6 Milton provided a biographical cause of death with a
sense of hope and grace. Please excuse the rewrite as I toss out Mosaic law
and work in a gospel allusion.

She walked upon the water to acquaint
Me with a faith in Christ, who walked the wave
"And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,"

Blasphemy of a sonnet of supreme beauty written by our blind hero who
struggled with grief, yet has experienced one of those dream gifts of an
encounter with someone you love who has died but seems so alive. Myth helps
form lines 1-4.
I have wrestled with this sonnet in my paper on How Thomas Jefferson might
have read this sonnet after his wife died. Great thoughts Miltonist
scholars and poets,and great observations from the students of the

Kemmer Anderson

On Sat, Apr 23, 2016 at 9:55 AM, Gregory Machacek <
Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> 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
> -----milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at richmond.edu>
> From: "Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM"
> Sent by: 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:* Gregory Machacek <Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu>
> *Sent:* Friday, April 22, 2016 4:12 PM
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu>
> *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
> ------------------------------
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