Milton's Verse

'Here, if this were a lecture, would come illustrative reading-out—say of the famous opening to Book III. As it is, the point seems best enforcible (though it should be obvious at once to anyone capable of being convinced at all) by turning to one of the exceptionally good passages—for everyone will agree at any rate that there are places where the verse glows with an unusual life. One of these, it will again be agreed, is the Mulciber passage at the end of Book I:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hasty multitude Admiring enter'd, and the work some praise

And some the Architect: his hand was known

In Heav'n by many a Towred structure high.

Where scepter'd Angels held thir residence.

And sat as Princes, whom the supreme King

Exalted to such power, and gave to rule.

Each in his Hierarchie, the Orders bright.

Nor was his name unheard or unador'd

In ancient Greece ; and in Ausonian land

Men called him Mulciber ; and how he fell

From Heav'n, they fabl'd, thrown by angry Jove

Sheer o're the Chrystal Battlements: from Morn

To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,

A Summers day ; and with the setting Sun

Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star,

On Lemnos th' Ægaean Ile: thus they relate,

Erring . . .

 The opening exhibits the usual heavy rhythmic pattern, the hieratic stylization, the swaying ritual movement back and forth, the steep cadences. Italics will serve to suggest how, when the reader's resistance has weakened, he is brought inevitably down with the foreseen thud in the foreseen place:

The hasty multitude Admiring enter'd, and the wórk some praise

And some the Architect: his hánd was known

In Héav'n by many a Tówred structure high.

Where scépter'd Angels held thir résidence.

And sat as Princes 

But from ' Nor was his name unheard ' onwards the effect changes. One no longer feels oneself carried along, resigned or protesting, by an automatic ritual, responding automatically with bodily gestures—swayed head and lifted shoulders—to the commanding emphasis: the verse seems suddenly to have come to Ufa. Yet the pattern remains the same ; there are the same heavy stresses, the same rhythmic gestures and the same cadences, and if one thought a graph of the verse-movement worth drawing it would not show the difference. The change of feeling cannot at first be related to any point of form ; it comes in with ' ancient Greece ' and ' Ausonian land,' and seems to be immediately due to the evocation of that serene, clear, ideally remote classical world so potent upon Milton's sensibility. But what is most important to note is that the heavy stresses, the characteristic cadences, turns and returns of the verse, have here a peculiar expressive felicity. What would elsewhere have been the routine thump of ' Sheer ' and ' Dropt ' is here, in either case, obviously functional, and the other rhythmic features of the verse are correspondingly appropriate. The stress given by the end-position to the first ' fell,' with the accompanying pause, in what looks like a common limply pompous Miltonicism— 

and how he fell

From Heav'n they fabl'd, thrown . . .

—is here uncommonly right ; the heavy ' thrown ' is right, and so are the following rise and fall, the slopes and curves, of the verse.

There is no need to particularize further.'


http://www.unz.org/Pub/Scrutiny-1933sep-00123?View=PDF