Robert Seymour Bridges.

Milton's prosody, with a chapter on accentual verse & notes online

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Online LibraryRobert Seymour BridgesMilton's prosody, with a chapter on accentual verse & notes → online text (page 1 of 10)
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with a chapter on
^Accentual Verse




y Revised ^
* Final *

b Edition &


\ l 9 21




Oxford University Press

London Edinburgh Glasgow New York

Toronto Melbourne Cape Town Bombay
Humphrey Milford Publisher to the University


WHEN I had finished the revise of this book,
and in some parts rewritten it, the need of
a preface confronted me, and, feeling disinclined
to write anything, I fell to considering prefaces in
general, and I thought of that great treatise-maker,
Cicero, who, if I truly remember, kept a store of
prefaces on hand, so that when he had perfected any
dissertation, he had but to select from his stock
the accomplished little lucubration that appeared most
suitable, or, as we should say, the one that would
do best. But even had this elegant method wholly
pleased me, I had no prefaces ready on hand : and
y then I saw what a thousand pities it is that a book

cannot write its own preface. One imagines the

o ... ,

growing book as its organization develops and

^ gradually gathers into unifying existence, bursting
at completion into personal self-consciousness, open-
ing like the flower of a child's mind to the miracle
of its being ; then I fancied how it would come
^j slowly to muse on its creation, to feel the discom-
forts inseparable from mortal existence, till it arose
in the rebellion of artistic dissatisfaction to be critical
of its creator. Few indeed are the books which,
like the children of the wise woman, would rise up
and bless their parent : they would talk rather like
A 2



iv Preface

those who with preposterous intelligence grumble at
their fate, complaining that their brains are too de-
pendent on their stomachs, or that their knee-joints
are clumsily fashioned, and their toes unsightly and
useless ; they might even emulate the bold proficiency
of the German Helmholtz who asserted that, if he
the creature had only been the Creator, he would
have supplied mankind with a better eye.

Then I took sorrowful compassion on my deaf and
dumb child, a poor little grammar, not born to be
clothed in gorgeous raiment of morocco or enamelled
leather, to lie golden-edged on drawing-room tables
or by the king's bedside ; yet surely with some
honest faculty of delicate feeling and, alas ! all the
inconveniences of an embryonic and embarrassed in-
heritance, pains like to those which we ourselves —
whether from bestial ancestry or a fall from Paradise
— know too well, our

Dropsies and asthmas and joint-racking rheums,

with all other ills that flesh is heir to : and with these
pitiable imperfections of body it would bewail its
ignorance, the frailties and baulking limitations of
its reasoning powers, and be deeply troubled at soul
by unintelligible glimpses of spiritual beauty, those
adumbrations of glory, those interrupted strains and
broken echoes of poetry, those flashes of Miltonic
music that are embedded in it without consequence
or correlation.

I wish, indeed, that it could relieve itself by utter-
ance of vituperation against me its maker. I should

Preface v

rejoice, not only because my sense of justice and sport
would welcome it — nor would I resent unpleasant
truths — but because such a prelude would be attrac-
tive and useful to my readers, and supply that first
utility of a preface, which is to spare critics the
labour of examining the book. This cannot be. One
service, however, I can render better than the book
itself could have done it ; I can tell the story of its
creation : but as that is not fit for a preface I shall
put it among the notes at the end.




Method of Treatise i

Digression on Quantity . . . 2-4

I. Exception to the syllables being ten . 4

Digression on the midverse extrametrical . 6-8

Digression on Elision . . .9-18

II. Variety in number of stresses . . 37

III. Inversion of feet .... 40

Remarks on the break in the verse . 43




The relaxation which is found in Paradise
Regained and Samson Agonistes of the laws
of ' Elision ' in Paradise Lost . . 46

The prosody and rhythm of Samson
Agonistes . . . . . .50



Recession of accent .... 67

Spelling ...... 77

Pronunciation ..... 79

viii Contents





The rules of the common lighter stress-
rhythms, and of the English accentual
hexameter . . . . .89

Heavier accentual rhythms . . .103
The accentual hexameter . . .105




In this treatise the scheme adopted for the exami- Method,
nation of Milton's matured prosody in the blank
verse of Paradise Lost is to assume a normal regular
line, and tabulate all the variations as exceptions to
that norm.

For this purpose English blank verse may con-
veniently be regarded as a decasyllabic line on a
disyllabic basis and in rising rhythm (i.e. with accents
or stresses on the alternate even syllables) ; and the
disyllabic units may be called^/.

Let such lines as the following be taken as normal
lines, 1

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast. i. 2.
Torments him ; round he throws his baleful 6yes. 56.
A Forrest huge of Spears: and thronging H6lms, 547.

and we find that these lines have ten syllables with
five stresses all on the even places.

In the following chapters we will examine the
exceptions to these conditions, namely :

I Exceptions to the number of syllables being ten,
II Exceptions to the number of stresses being five,
III Exceptions in the position of the stresses,
and this will give all the variations due to prosody ; Con-
for quantity, though a main factor of rhythm, is not sideration
considered in the prosody of syllabic verse. ofquanuty

1 In accentual blank verse been satisfactorily determined,

these would be normal lines, see nor will it be discussed in this

p. 38; but the rhythmical basis book; see ch. II, pp. 37 and

of syllabic blank verse has never 38, and again on p. 84.

2S?S B





No quan-
titive rule
for the
feet in

[() Digression on Quantity.

Quantity, which means the relative duration of
time which different syllables fill in pronouncing, is
an omnipresent efficient factor of rhythm, and as we
are not going to deal with it, we shall do well to
exhibit exactly what it is that we are excluding.

Take the first of these regular lines quoted above,

(i) Of that | Forbidjden Tree, | whose mor|tal tast:

this line may be read extremely well with all its five
accents at perfectly regular intervals of time : Let it
be so read.

If this reading be now set out in musical notation,
with the isochronous musical bars (as is necessary)
before the accents, we shall not get






Of that ' For - bid'- den Tree 7 , whose mor / -tal



but something like this








that is to say the accent in the second foot forbid 'is on
a very short syllable bid, and the unaccented syllable
den is held on to fill the bar : and this affects the
rhythm very deeply, but it does not concern the
prosody ; that is to say, the prosody admits of either
long or short syllables in any place of the verse.
If now we were to try to write this same line in equal-
timed prosodial feet we should get


Of that | Forbid'n|n Tree, whose mor-tal tast :

and although one very effective and common way of
reciting the verse of P. L. is to set up an equal-timed
musical beat and keep as nearly to it as possible, yet
such a reading will sometimes give five and sometimes

on ^ua?ttity 3

only four bars to the verse ; and if it serve for

a rhythmical interpretation, it will exhibit to the ear, as

the notation above exhibits to the eye, the fact that

time-value or quantity is not considered in the prosody

of English syllabic verse any more than classical

prosody concerns itself with the rhythms produced by

the incidence of the verbal accents on the prescribed

prosodial units, although in each case these rhythms

are primal factors in the beauty of the verse.

The example of the word forbidden will show what Common

it is that English writers on metre confuse, when they confusion

call accented syllables 'lone-', and take all unaccented accent
1111 1 r 1 > and quan-

syllabJes to be 'short . t j t „

That in syllabic English verse the prosody proper
is not concerned with the rhythmical effects caused
by 'quantity' (i.e. by the different lengths of the
syllables when spoken) may possibly give rise to the
idea that there is no such thing as ' quantity ' in
English speech : and if a man can persuade himself
that he is insensible to the actual different time-length
of spoken syllables — as roughly illustrated above —
he may possibly consider himself at liberty to apply
the terms 'long' and 'short' to accented and un-
accented syllables as such. The confusion is of course
irremediable ; and it is little credit to such exponents
of verse that, having deprived these essential terms
of their proper meaning, they do not, when they
discuss rhythm, seem hampered in their vocabulary
by the absence of any terms that distinguish these
primary and omnipresent conditions.

To clinch the absurdity, note the indisputable fact
that they cannot speak without differentiation of the
quantities of the syllables, but yet they maintain that
they cannot differentiate them. It is fruitless to show
colours to the blind. Q

One example may be of use. The Greek word typical
T€TV[Xfxevoi is in quantity and accent similar to such example.

b a


4 Number of Syllables

English words as scientific, apostolic, unemphatic, disembody,
recognition, unambitious, anaesthetic, &c, and may be
represented in musical notation thus,


re - rvfx - /i,e - vos
an - aes - the - tic ;

but boys are taught to accent the Greek word as if it
were Latin, and the Latin rule being that short
penultimates are unaccented and in polysyllables throw
the accent back, they pronounce the word thus :

T£ " TV/X - CV - OS

in doing this the long unaccented syllable tvllu. (with
its double u) is shortened by being accented, because the
fxp. is treated as if it were merely the English device
of marking the short quality of a preceding accented
vowel, instead of giving syllabic length by the pro-
duction of the liquid /x. Both accent and quantity
are thus falsified, the long syllable is pronounced short,
and the accented syllable is unaccented ; and thus it is
that boys are expensively trained to be incapable of
distinguishing between accent and quantity, and to
read all Greek and Latin verse wrongly.]

I. Exceptions to the syllables being ten.

These exceptions may be either of deficiency or

Q Deficiency of syllables.

Nine- There is no example in P. L. of a line having less

syllable than ten syllables ; but this is worth noting because
it is probable that Milton was acquainted with
Chaucer's practice of using a line that omits the first

Final extrametrical 5

unaccented syllable, as in these examples from his
most perfected style in the Prologue to the Tales :

Ginglen in a whistling wind as clere. I 70.
For to delen with no swich poraille. 247.
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed. 294.

and one cannot read Chaucer unless one is prepared
for this. It must be concluded that Milton rejected
this form of the line, though the question may be
raised again in considering the rhythms in Samson
Agonistes. In the first edition of P. L. there hap-
pened to be a nine-syllable line printed at x. 827,

With me ; how can they acquitted stand ;

this was corrected in the 1674 edition thus,

With me ; how can they then acquitted stand.

(Beeching, p. 4OI.)

Supernumerary syllables.

These should be separated into two classes. First,
those which may be considered as Extrametrical ;
secondly, those that are to be accounted for by
Poetical Elision and speech contraction. And first
to define the extrametrical.

§ Extrametrical syllables.

1. At end of the line.

An extra syllable sometimes occurs at the end of Final
the line, more rarely in Milton than in most writers, extra-

Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring, i. 38.

sometimes there are two such syllables.

Imbu'd, bring to thir sweetness no satietie. viii. 216.

For solitude somtimes is best societie. ix. 249. P.R. i. 302.

It is possible that these words satiety and society are
allowed in this place because they admit of ' elision '
[see below] and can be therefore considered as single




* hangers ' : but the elision being optional — (compare
the following lines

What higher in her ] socijetie | thou findst. viii. 586.
Him with her lov'd | soci|etie, | that now. ix. 1007.
In solemn troops, and sweet j societies. Lye. 179. ) —

all such endings, having two syllables extrametrical at
the end, whether theoretically elidible or not, will still
have a hexametric effect, and they do not differ from
verses intended to have six feet. This ambiguity of
prosody is illustrated in Sam. Ag. see p. 61. The
matter worth noticing is that Milton is sparing in the
use of all such endings in blank verse. (See note B).

2. In other parts of the line.

In Shakespeare it is common to find an analogous
syllable in the midst of the line ; and thus Milton, in
his earlier work, e.g. in Comus,

To quench the drouth of Phoe(bus), which as they taste. 1. 66.
And as I past, I wor(shipt) : if those you seek. 302.
And earths base built on stub-(ble). But com let's on. 599.
But for that damn'd magi-(cian), let him be girt. 602.
Root-bound, that fled Apol-(lo). Fool do not boast. 662.
Cramms, and blasphemes his fee-(der). Shall I go on? 779.

In P. L. Milton disallowed the use of this syllable.
In lines like the following,

Of high collateral glor(ie) : him Thrones and Powers, x. 86.

where its rhythmical effect is maintained by the colon,
the extra syllable is accounted for by ( elision '.




[§ Digression on the midverse extrametrical syllable.

I suppose there is no doubt that this midverse
extrametrical syllable came from the old French
practice of regarding their twelve-syllable line as com-
posed of two hemistichs divided by a marked caesura :
concerning which Littre writes in the preface to his
translation of the first book of the Iliad :

' Autrefois l'himistiche Itait considere comme une fin de vers.
Ainsi dans un poeme du xn e siecle il est dit de Berthe :

Sxtrametricals 7

Oncque plus douce chose ni vi, no n'acointrai ; in twelve-

Elle est plus gracieuse que n'est la rose en mai. syllable

Et . . . cl'un guerrier blesse a mort : verse.

Pinabaux trebucha sur l'herbe ensanglantge
Et fors de son poing destre lui 6chappa l'epee.

Cette habitude est constante ; '

but it was discarded in the seventeenth century.

The practice also invaded the French ten-syllable in ten-
verse, and as this has no middle it divided it unequally, syllable
There are two examples in these five lines :

Quant vient en mai que Ton dit as Ions jors,
Que Franc de Fiance repairent de roi cort,
Reynauz repaire devant el premier front ;
Si s'en passa lez lo meis Erembor,
Ainz n'en dengna le chief drecier amont. 1

This extrametrical syllable being originally attached in
to the old caesura of the twelve-syllable line, its place Shake-
is properly after the sixth syllable, as in all the examples s P eare *
quoted from Comus, but the indeterminate position of
the break in ten-syllable verse allowed it to appear in
other places as a few quotations from Shakespeare
will illustrate. After the fourth place it is common,
and this corresponds with the French examples just

Burnt on the wat(er) : the poop was beaten gold. Ant. 6° Cle. ii. 2.
From mine own know(ledge). As nearly as I may. Ibid.

but in The Tempest^ his last play (?), we find

So dear the love my people bore (me), — nor set. Temp. i. 2.
With all the honours on my broth(er) : whereon.

This extrametrical syllable within the line is then
a borrowed licence and has no title to admission into
English syllabic blank verse, but Shakespeare made
a very good use of it in his dialogue. Where a line is
divided between two speakers, the second speaker
often disregards the last syllable of the first speaker,

1 Quoted from Les Po'etes francais. Crepet, vol. i. p. 42.
Twelfth century.

8 SVlid-verse Sxtrametricals

and treats it as extrametrical. This avoids the effect
of the second speaker having his answer conditioned
for him by the first, who being in possession of the
line ceded as it were only as much as he chose ; and
in drama the value of a reply is actually impaired, if
it seems to be led up to and prearranged, so as to fall
pat. A stichomythia, as it is called, in which each
speaker is bound to fill and not to exceed one line,
requires the art to be free from all realism whatever ;
a condition not often presented by our drama.

The extrametrical syllable in the condition above
described is so common in Shakespeare that the ear
becomes familiarized with it, and does not resent it
in other places : it was freely abused by the Eliza-
bethan dramatists : it has probably become con-
founded with the true trisyllabic foot and imagined
to be a bad attempt at that : some modern writers
have thus used it, with a sort of affectation of antique

its effect There is no foot in Milton's line where this effect

obtained cannot be obtained by interrupted elision, as
by elision.

Departed from (thee), and thou resembl'st now. iv. 839.

Before (thee); and not repenting, this obtaine. x. 75.

and the conditions are sometimes very elaborate, e.g.
in the following line the last syllable of condescension
appears to be extrametrical, if the prosodial elision of
be honour d is neglected ; and as that is optional, it
cannot be said that the effect of the extrametrical is
not intended : but Milton's rules would not have
allowed the line without the elision

Thy condescension, and shall be Zionour'd ever. viii. 649.

Had the midverse extrametrical syllable been
admitted into P. L., the whole prosody would have
been thrown into confusion.

Digression on 6 /is ion 9

§ Supernumerary syllables accounted for by Elision.

[{ Digression justifying the use of the term Elision.

Since the word elision signifies l cutting out ', Elision or
there would seem an impropriety in using it to svn -
describe the condition of syllabic vowels which are a "P a '
not truly elided or cut out of the pronunciation.
The following justification of my use of it is provoked
by my critics, to whom I hereby dispense the readers'

In English verse when there is poetic elision of the terminal
terminal vowel of one word before the initial vowel ellslon -
of the next word, the sound of it is not lost, the two
vowels are glided together, and the conditions may
be called synaloepha.

For instance the first example of terminal syn-
aloepha in P. L. is

Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues, i. I 5.

where the final vowel of the is glided into the A of
Aonian, it is still heard in the glide, though pro-
sodially asyllabic.

Now since this synaloepha of vowels between two
words was historically an imitation of the true Greek
elision, that name is convenient and historically
correct, and it is commonly used by correct gram-
marians, and as a matter of fact the first of two such
vowels is theoretically ' cut out ' of the prosody or

In Milton's prosody, this terminal * elision ' is not
confined to naked vowels, he treats the semivowels
/, #, and r as vowels, so that his terminal c elisions '
require different phonetic explanations, and would
not all fall under one definite grammatical name.

Moreover when these same collisions of vowels
and semivowels occur (under the same phonetic




came from




cence of

conditions) within the word, he subjects them to the
same prosodial law as when they are terminal, that is
between two words. The various phonetic con-
ditions are the same in both cases, and it is convenient
to have one name to cover all.

It might be argued that the terminal synaloepha is
not the type, but is itself a mere extension of the
midword synaloepha native to our speech ; but since
historically the Chaucerian and Miltonic terminal
synaloepha seems to be the true direct descendant,
a great-grandchild of the Greek elision, I preferred
a term which recognized that kinship ; and if in our
prosody all such cases of syllabic loss are to have a
general term, then 'elision' is justifiable, and is the
better for having no phonetic significance ; it does not
describe any one of the conditions, and cannot be
mistaken for anything but a label.

I suppose that the practice of terminal synaloepha
actually came to our verse something in this way :
Firstly — In Greek when a word ended with a naked
vowel, then, if the following word began with a vowel,
the naked terminal vowel was cut out ; it was neither
spoken nor written : and this was true elision.

This condition of things raises some curious
questions in Greek prosody.

Greek grammarians are, I believe, agreed that
a Greek syllable was essentially and typically com-
posed of a consonant (or consonants) followed by
a vowel ; and thus in all Greek manuscripts, and sub-
sequently in print, where a word is divided between
two lines, the division is made on this principle,
phonetically, regardless of the philological articulation
of the word. For instance, they would have divided
a word like disorderly not dis-orderly as we do, but
disorderly^ the s being annexed to the second syllable,
to complete it. However strange this division may
look to us, we ourselves observe it in singing, and

on Elision 1 1

that shows it to have a phonetic propriety of some
kind. We must suppose that the Greeks used the
same practice in reading as they did in writing, and
that e.g. Nlvjviv aetie was read as M77W vae/^e. But
a word beginning with a vowel if it were preceded by
a word that ended with a vowel would have no con-
sonant with which to initial itself except by the
practice of elision, which seems to have come of an
opisthophagic habit by which it ate away the final
vowel of the preceding word, if that was short and
syllabically unimportant, in order to get at the last
consonant and annex it to complete its own first
syllable. This I imagine may have been the origin
of Greek elision.

Now words thus treated renounce in speech their The ver-
proper formal unity ; and this coalesced condition kal umt
would seem at first sight irreconcilable with the great
importance which the Greeks attached to the verbal
unit, as that plainly appears in all their laws for
caesuras and verbal breaks, in their incommunicable
sensibility to the effect of a trisyllable at the end of
an iambic line, and their strict disallowance of unequal
division of the fourth foot in the hexameter. Such
rules imply that the verbal unit had to them an over-
ruling force, and it might seem that the recognition
of that was incompatible with the phonetic amalgama-
tion of the words. I have never come across any
treatment of this question : the facts, I think, show
that the phonetic amalgamation of the words cannot
in any way have destroyed the force of the verbal
unit — which has some special recognition perhaps in
the fact that elision rules between words, but not
between similar syllables within words — and if that
is so, we must conclude that its force did not lie
in its formal literary structure, but in the voice- (in voice-

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Online LibraryRobert Seymour BridgesMilton's prosody, with a chapter on accentual verse & notes → online text (page 1 of 10)