Allen Ginsberg & Tom Schwartz on John Milton

Tom Schwartz: There’s a very good book by F.T.PrinceThe Italian Element in Milton’s Verse which is a nice short book which gets to the heart of the matter. Milton was very fascinated with Italian poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, just before him, Tasso, in particular, and the standard Italian line contained eleven syllables, and for various reasons, a ten-syllable line works in English (mainly because we don’t have so many vowels and we have heavier consonants) and, basically, wnat Milton prosody comes down to in the  blank verse, instead of the monotonous da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da (which is normally the way it’s looked at), he has a ten syllable line with two accents, very stong accents (other syllables might contain accents but ..first, the tenth syllable, or last syllable, in each line, should have an accent (or at least be able to contain an accent ..

AG: “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit”  – (“fruit”  is accented) – “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, and regain the blissful Seat/ Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top” – (So it’s really amazing, and.. when you look at his verse, every last syllable seems to have an accent -and once you realize that, it makes you conscious of what Milton’s secret clue was (I never knew that until we checked it out today, so it really fits. All my life I’ve wondered)

TS: And then the second thing is that in the ten syllable line there’ll be a stress near the middle of the line, either on the fourth o rthe sixth syllable.. and that supposedly comes from the Italian in that they have so many vowels in their language and its so meodic that there’s a.. that they equate it to…that a line of that length would take about two strums on a guitar or two beats on a drum with a back beat or something to get through the line. that there… in oratory, with the length of that line, that it would take two stresses, two key words, and the nice thing about that, when I looked at started… I hope my ear’s right..

AG: (You can check it now with this, with the opening lines lines anyway)

TS: The words that get stressed here bring out the whole argument of the poem in the first few lines – Dis, the Roman God of chaos (we’re going to explore chaos with Satan pretty soon) and “the fruit” of course, “tree” -“taste”- “World”   “woe” – Eve (of Eden) and Man.

AG: (Well, you’ve got to to learn to  laugh and stick with it.  In other words.. and so, if you thought (that you)….   Somewhere in the middle of the line there’s going to be another accent that is going to be somewhere on the fourth or sixth syllables

TS: There could be other accents too, so this particular one.. so  please don’t get me started…There will be other ones saying – [Tom Schwartz reads, accentuating Milton] –  “Man’s first  disobedience”/”and the fruit/Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the World, and, all our woe” – that carries it along with a..almost a

Student:   (But then doesn’t the pattern relax a little in the middle there with a strong syllable and then a soft syllable?)

AG: No that’s strong.

Student: That’s strong?

AG: “With loss of Eden, till one greater Man”  (instead of “one greater Man”) – you could say “With Loss of Eden, till one greater Man”, but it sounds more natural  – “”With loss of Eden, till one greater Man”

TS: And also (I just thought of this) – If there’s a secondary main stress on each of these halfs then you find it’s a zero pause in the middle of the line, it’s very close to Anglo-Saxon, with the poetry..

AG: Yes

TS: The ten-syllable line – but if you try to…  That’s what Chaucer has, he has, roughly, a ten syllable line.

Student: (Piers Plowman?)

TS: ….but if you try to count syllables. the scholars go crazy trying to fit and pronounce possible (versions of) the syllables, but if you stretch it over a four-beat Anglo-Saxon line, it fits very nicely (especially, like, the knight’s tale and the battle scene..),

AG:   (But) what’s the knight’s tale?..

TS: I’ve talked about it… [part of the latter part of Book 1 of Paradise Lost ]

AG: I don’t know it.

 [Audio for the above can be heard here, begining at approximateky thirty-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-four-and-three-quarter minutes in] 

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