« PreviousContinue »
Pope, in a letter to Mr. Walsh, containing some critical observat ons on English versification, remarks, that in any smooth English verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth syllable, and upon the judicious cha ge and management of these depends the variety of versification. But Milton, a master of greater melody than any other english poet, varies 'the pause according to the sene, through all the ten syllables, and scarcely ever suffers it to rest upon the same syllable in more ihan iwo, and sellom in so many rerses together. Here it is upon the first syllable of the verse.
others on the grass
such as in their souls infix'd
-these to their nests Were slunk.--all but the wakeful nightingale ; iv. 602. Down thither prone in fight
He speeds,m-and through the vast ethereal sky. V. 267. Upon the third,
-what in me is dark Illumine, --what is low raise and support; i. 23. was the wakeful bird Sings darkling,—and in shadiest covert hid. iii. 39. Upon the fourth,
on he led his radiant files, Dazzling the moon ;-these to the bow'r direct iv. 798.
at his right hand victory Sat eagle-wing dj-beside him hung his bow, vi. 763. Upon the fiftb,
-bears, tigers, ounces, pards,
and in the air
Girt with omnipotence with radiance crown'd. vii. 194.
Majestic though in ruin ;--sage he stood ii. 305.
Birds on the branches warbling ;-all things smil'd viii,
265. Upon tbe eigbeb, Hung on his shoulders like the moon,whose orb i. 287.
A fairer person lost not Heav'n;-he seem'd ii. 110.
Rose as in dance the stately trees, vii. 323. end bere upon the end,
thou that day Thy Father's dreadful thunder didst not spare--iii. 393.
Attended with ten thousand thousand sainis-avi. 767. And sometimes to give the greater variety to the verse, there are two or more pauses in the same line : as
on the ground Outstretch'd he lay-on the cold ground,-and oft Curs'd his creation x. 851. And swims-or sinks or wades, or creeps-or flies :Exhausted. --spiritless-afflicted, fall’n.-vi. 8<2. There are other excellencies in Milton's versification. The English heroic verse approaches nearest to the lambic of the Ancients, of which it wants only a foor ; but then it is to be measur'd by the tone and accert, as well as by the time and quantity. Anlambic foot is one short and one long syllable, and six such feet constitute an Jambic verse; but the Ancients seldom made use of the pure lambic, especially in works of any considerable length, but oftener of the mix'd lambic, that is, with a proper intermixture of other measures ; and of these perhaps Milton has express'd as happy a variety as any poet whatever, or indeed as the nature of a verse will admit, that consists only of five feet, and ten syllables for the most part. Sometimes he gives us almost pure lambics, as in i. ver. 314.
Sometimes he intermixes the Trochee or foot of one long and one short syllable, as in v. 49.
Sometimes the Spondee or foot of two long syllables, as in v. 21.
Sometimes the Pyrrichius or foot of two short syllables, as in v. 64.
Sometimes the Dactyle or foot of one long and two short syllables, as in v. 45
Sometimes the Anapæst or foot of two short and one long syilable, as in v. 87.
Sometimes the Tribrachus or foot of three short syllables, as in v. 709
Sometimes there is variety of these measures in the same verse, and seldom or never the same measures in two verses toge her. These changes are not only cor.trived for the graler variety, but to make the sound more expressive of the sense.
So that Milion has abundantly exemplified in his own practice the rules laid down by himself in his preface, his vers fication having all the requisiies of “ musical delight, which," as he says,
16 consists only in apt numurs, fic quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn cut irom one verse into another."
4. With Loss of Eden,] meant no more than I ss of Paradise which was printed in Eden, which word Eden signifies delight or pleasure, and the country is supposed to be the same that was afterwards called Mesopotamia ; particularly by our author in iv. 210, &c. Here the whole is put for a part, as sometimes a part for the whole, by a fire calied Synecrloche.
4. -till one greuter Man
Restore s, and regain te blissful seat,] As it is a greater Man, so it is a happier Paradise which our Saviour
promiser to the penitent thief, Luke xxiii. 43. This day shalt tb su be wiib mein Paradise. But Milton had a votion that atter the confiagration and the general judgment, the whole Earth would be made a Paradise, xii. 463.
The author, speaking here of regaining the blissful seat, had at this time formed some design ot his poem of Paradise Regained. But however that be, in the beginning of that poem he manifestly alludes to the beginning of this, and there makes Paradise to be Regained by our Saviour's foiling the Tenpter in the wilderness.
I who ere while the happy garden sung,
Recover'd Paradise to all mankind,
Bentley says that Milton dictated sacred top. Horeb is called the mountain of God, 1 Kings, xix. 8, and the ground of it is said in Exod. iii. 5, to be boiy. But let the moun. tain be never so boly, yet according to the rules of good poetry, when Milton speaks of the top of the mountain, he should give us an epithet peculiar to the top only, and not to the whole mountain. The epithet secret will not do here, because the top of this mountain is visiile sever :) leagues off. But Sinai and Horeb are the same mountain, with two several eminences, the higher of them called Sinai : and of Sinai Josephus in his Jewish Antiquit. Book iii. chap. 5, says, that it is so high, that the top of it cannot be seen without straining the ey s. In this sense there. fore, the top of it may well be said to be secret. In Exoda xvii. it is said that the Israelites, when encamped at the foot of Horeb, could find no water; from whence Dr. Bentley concludes, that Horeb had no clouds or mists about its top; and that therefore secret top cannot be here meant asimplying that high mountains against rainy weather have their heads surrounded with mists. I never thought that any reader of Milton would have understood secret top in this sense. The words of Horeb or of Sinai imply a doubt of the poet, which name was properest to be given to that countain, on the top of which Moses received his inspiration; because Horeb and Sinai are used for one another in Scripture, as may be seen by comparing Exod. iii. I. with Acis vii. 30. Now it is well known from Exod. xix. 16. Ecclus. xlv. s. and other p aces of Scripture, that when God gave his laws to Moses on the top of Sinai, it was covered with clouds, dark clouds, and ibick smoke ; it was therefore secret at that time in a peculiar sense : and the same thing seems intended by the epithet which our poet uses upon the very same occasion in xii. 227.
God from the mount of Sinai, whose gray top
It appears from Scripture, that while Moses was with God in the mount, the people were not to come near it or touch ir, till after a signal given, and then they were only to approach and not to ascend it, nor pass the bounds set for them, upon pain of death, Exod. xix. so that upon all aca counts secret is the most proper epithet, that could have been chosen.
8. That shepherd, who first, &c.] For Moses kept the flock of Jethro bis father-in-law, Exod. iii. J. and he is very properly said to have first tüugbe the chosen seed, being the most ancient writer among the jews, and indeed the most ancient that is now extant in the world.
9. In the beginning kow the Heav'ns and Eartb] Alluding to the first words of Genesis.
11. and Siloa's brook] Siloa was a small river that flowed near the temple at Jerusalem. It is mentioned Isai. viii. 6. So that in effect he invokes the heavenly Muse, that inspired David and the prophets on mount Sion, and at Jerusalem, as well as Moses on mount Sinai.
15. Above th Aonian mcunt,] A poetical expression for Soaring to a height above other poets. The mountains of Boeotia, anciently called Aonia, were the haunt of the Muses, and thus Virgil, Ecl. vi. 65; though afterwards that country was famous for the dulness of its inhabitants.
16. Things unattempted yet in prose or rhime.
It is evident that by i bime in this place is meant verse in general; but Milton thought it would sound too low and familiar to the ear to say in prose or verse, and therefore chose rather to say in prose or rbimc. When he says in prose or verse, he adds an epithet to take off from the commonness of the expression, as in v. 150.
Such prompt eloquence
It is said that Milton took the first bint of this poem from an Italian tragedy called Il Paradiso Perso; and that he has borrowed largely from Masenius, a German Jesuit, and other modern authors; but it is all a pretence. His is an original, if ever there was one. His subject indeed of the fall of Man, together wiih the principal episodes, may be said to be as old as Scripture, but his manjier of handling them is entirely neiv, with new illustrations and new beau.