Allen Ginsberg and Tom Schwartz on John Milton – 6

[Portrait of John Milton painted by William Blake for William Hayley’s library in his home near Felpham, England]

Allen and Tom Schwarz have just previously been discussing the influence of Latin syntax on the poetry of John Milton.

AG: So okay, what’s the point of all this. The point is that the Latin has a different order of words, that you could have, that the…verb comes at the end and that the arrangement of the nouns, the subject and the object might be in a different order. So dig now this opening line here – like “Of arms and the man I sing”  – ” Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit/of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/Brought Death into the World, and all our woe/With loss of Eden, till one greater Man/Restore us an regain the blissful Seat/Sing…”.  – He had all those things going up to “Sing”,  then finally gets to his verb at the end.

TS: Latin sentences are longer, in actual word count

AG: So immediately you’ve got Milton’s weirdo Latinate syntax. So that’s why he’s got that sound and that’s why he’a got his words arranged that way, (It) comes up from the Latin and from his training in the Latin

I don’t know, it’s sometimes useful, probably (Bob) Dylan does it too, puts the verb at the end, occasionally. You find it coming into poetry and usually it’s that echo of Latin, sort of a ghost of Latin, hovering over the syntax (you know what syntax is? – anybody here not know what the word syntax is? – raise your hand if you know exactly what syntax is. Syntax is just the arrangement, what word comes where, how they relate to each other, one is the object, one is the verb – “I bite dog” – “Man bites dog” – so subject-verb-object  and how you arrange it is what we call the syntax, what part of speech it is, what part of your sentence it is). So he’s got this inverted syntax. Now Milton’s inverted syntax and that kind of inversion became very poetical sounding and people later on picked up on it – it’s  when you talk straight to your servant you talk regular, but when you talk in poetry, you invert syntax and make it sound classical, or hi-faultin’. And pretty soon people were going on.. were sounding ridiculous, whenever they wrote poetry. And that was what was necessary to cut through when Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound and the rest came on the scene. It was..  It had gotten out-of-hand. It didn’t get out of hand in Milton, (in the sense that it’s a little bit heavy, but on the other hand, he’s got such a great ear, and he’s so obviously imitating Latin that he’s making.., it’s a big play,  like a big organist, like playing on the organ).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-five minutes in]

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