Milton’s Poetic Measure

AG: Now how dare we assume that it’s meant for speaking aloud anyway? (aside from all the evidence that I’ve been producing in the last four months, three months). Well, what we have is (John) Milton’s own book on that. And so, he’s got for Paradise Lost  (not in your book but in a complete Paradise Lost) there’s a thing, a little preface he gives to Paradise Lost called “The Verse” – (and he’s telling about the verse-forms). So this was his particular scheme. Now he did Greek and Latin and he knew it real well and he wrote a lot of Latin poems, so that “long and short” was built into his poetic education and poetical-education  ear system –  he knew it all around). In this particular case, he’s breaking off with rhymes, the kind of rhymes we’ve been dealing with over the last few months (last two weeks), and all that lyric rhymed stuff)

“The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme…” –   (“The measure” – that’s the word William Carlos Williams picks up later on – “measure” – as.. so he was loooking for an American measure, so he gets it out of this tradition, the way Milton uses it. And also, John Wieners, a great poet, founded a magazine, inflenced by (Robert) Creeley and (Charles) Olson in 1957  in Boston called Measure magazine, which was a great magazine that everyone like Creeley, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Olson, (Robert) Duncan , they all contributed to Measure magazine. We all had big poetry readings in San Francisco to raise money for Measure magazine in 1964 (which Wieners then ran off with and shot up with junk, but anyway that was the intention).

“The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Virgil in Latin; Rhime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac’t indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets..” – [ like Shakespeare]  – “carried away by Custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them..”. – (as you yourselves may have discovered in trying to write this rhymed verse as homework) –  “Not without cause therefore some both Italian, and Spanish Poets of prime note have rejected Rhime both in longer and shorter Works” – (true – “both in longer and shorter works”) – , “as have also long since our best English Tragedies..” –  ( I think Shakespeare finally rejected rhyme for The Tempest, or, late plays – early plays he rhymed) –  “as have also long since our best English Tragedies as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, triveal, and of no true musical delight; which consists onely in…”  – (okay , “of no true musical delight”- and then he defines “musical delight”, for him) – “which consists onely in   apt Numbers..” – (“apt Numbers”? – “Numbers”? – count of syllables, I think that’s what he means by “Numbers” there – “apt Numbers” – in the case of Paradise Lost, (as Tom Schwartz, poet, here, points out), a ten or eleven syllable line) – “apt numbers, fit quantity of Syllables” – “fit quantity of Syllables” – (in English he’s trying to do a fit quantity of syllables line by line, but the quantity, count, or length of the syllable-line, the duration of syllables, fit duration of syllables – So Milton is saying  that’s important – “musical delight”, “apt numbers  , fit quantity of syllables) – and, “the sense variously drawn out from one Verse into another” – (the idea drawn out from one line – by “verse” he means a line here –  from one line to another, so it goes on and on a bit, it doesn’t just chop up for.. like, there’s one statement for ten syllables, another statement,  the next ten syllables) – ” not in the jingling sound of like endings” – (rhyme)  “a fault avoyded by the learned Ancients both in Poetry and all good Oratory” – (“all good Oratory” – so this word is used by Milton as characterisic of his own intention in writing, and then (William) Blake, later on will pick up in his Preface to Jerusalem, this word , “Oratory”) – ” This neglect then of Rhime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem’d an example set, the first in English” – (he’s boastful now) – “of ancient liberty recover’d to heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing”- (So he was a real revolutionary of his day, and we had to go through the same revolution .in 1910,  to restore fit quantity of syllable and abandon the jingling of rhyme).

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in

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