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Alas, from what high hope to what relapse
By his great Prophet.” In the Second edition of Paradise Lost, in 1674, though the Ten Books of the First were divided into Twelve, and a few additional lines were inserted, the printers had the First for their copy, and followed its pointing. Likewise, in the Second edition of the Minor Poems, in 1673, the pointing of the First edition was, in the main, repeated. Several pieces, however, appeared in this Second edition that had not appeared in the First. How were these pointed ? Very poorly. Thus, Sonnet XIX. (numbered XVI. in that edition)
“ Doth God exact day labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Is Kingly.” From this account of the punctuation of Milton's Poems in the extant MS. drafts of them, and in the original printed editions, it will be seen that it would be difficult to recover anything that could even presumably be called Milton's system of punctuation, and that, if we could recover it, the prize would be worth nothing. If he were alive now, the pointing of his Poems would be the last thing about them in which he would avow any personal interest, or even opinion. Yet, in some respects, a writer's pointing, or abstinence from pointing, is more characteristic, gives us a keener insight into his mental processes, than his spelling.
han his spelling. Why, then, do not those who insist on the preservation of the spelling of the original editions of Milton's Poems insist also on the preservation of their pointing, with all its variations from good to passable, from passable to bad, and occasionally from bad back again to the sheer destitution of points favoured by most of his own MSS. ? For my part, I should find greater instruction, greater insight at least into the habits of defunct printing-offices, in the variable punctuation of the old texts, positively bad as it often is, than in their reasonless flutterings round our present spellings of words, shown by deviations from them in one page and returns to them in another. There is head-work, clever or stupid, in the one variation; the other is mainly finger-work.
VI. MILTON'S VERSIFICATION AND HIS PLACE IN
THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH VERSE.
Although the terms of classical Prosody—Iambus, Trochee, Spondee, Dactyl, Anapæst, Tribrach, etc.—may be applied to English verse effectively enough on the principle of taking accented syllables for longs and unaccented for shorts, there is a superior convenience in some respects in the mode of scanning English verse adopted by Dr. Latham in his work on the English Language. Let a stand for an accented syllable, and x for an unaccented one: then for the ambus we
ave xa, for the Trochee ax, for the Spondee aa, for the Dactyl axx, for the Anapæst xxa, for the Tribrach xxx, etc. ; and we have the means of constructing a formula which shall express
the metre of any given line of English verse. Thus, instead of saying of the line “Dearly bought the hidden treasure ” that it consists of four Trochees, or is Trochaic Dimeter or Trochaic Quaternarius, we may say that it is of the formula 4 ax; instead of saying of the line “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold” that it consists of four Anapæsts, we may say that it is of the formula 4 xxa ; and, instead of saying that a normal line of our ordinary blank verse consists of five Iambi, we can say that its formula is 5 xa. With the help of such additional symbols as + for a supernumerary syllable and – for a syllable, or part of a foot, in defect, we can express the peculiarities for which the terms hypermetrical, catalectic, etc., are used in classical Prosody. We shall employ this mode of notation, with some extensions, in what follows.
On the merest general survey of English Poetry in respect of its Verse-mechanism, one discerns two important features in which it contrasts with the Poetry of the Greeks and Latins, in addition to that feature contrast which is the most obvious of all : viz. the liberty and frequency of Rhyme (1) English Verse is prevailingly Iambic, or of the xa metre. In Classical Poetry we have the
Dactylic Hexameter for epic, narrative, and didactic purposes, the Iambic Trimeter or Iambic Senarius for the purposes of the Tragic Drama, and the same, with Trochaic and other licences and varied ranges of measure, for the purposes of Comedy; and these metres, with that variation of the first which consists of Elegiacs or alternate Hexameters and Pentameters, share the bulk of Greek and Latin Poetry among them, while other miscellaneous metres and combinations are used by the Greek and Latin lyrists. In English Verse, on the other hand, the xa metre is overwhelmingly the most frequent. Trochaic, Dactylic, and Anapæstic measures occasionally in our lyric poetry; but the lambic is all but our metrical factotum. Nay, among lambic measures, we have tended mainly to one in particular. Though a good deal of our best-known poetry from Chaucer till now is in Iambic Octosyllabics or the 4 xa formula, much more of it is in Iambic Decasyllabics or the 5 xa formula. In the form of our common blank verse, or in the older form of heroic rhyming couplets, we have made this 5 xa metre suit for the narrative and didactic purposes to which the Greeks and Latins appropriated the Dactylic Hexameter or 6 axx; we have made it suit also for the purposes of the Tragic Drama, for which they employed the Iambic Trimeter or 6 xa, and: for the purposes of Comedy, for which they used that verse more laxly and with many licences; besides which, we use the same 5 xa largely for various purposes in rhyming stanzas. (2) In what has just been said another fact is involved : to wit, that the English ear has not hitherto shown itself capable of sustaining easily or continuously verse of such length of line as the classic ear favoured. There are specimens in our older poetry of verse in 6 xa, or even longer measures; Tennyson in his Maud has introduced a rhyming variation of the Dactylic Hexameter, and he has also given us poems
; and there have been similar experiments by other recent English poets. A notable phenomenon in very recent English verse, indeed, has been the tendency to greater length of line than was formerly customary. Still the fact remains that, while the Greeks and Romans liked 6 axx or 6 xa or yet longer measures, the English have not generally, in continuous poetry, gone beyond 5 xa. How is it that, while on the Greek stage the tragic dialogue was in complete Iambic Trimeters, which to our reading are 6 xa, our English blank verse, used for the same dramatic purpose, and for other purposes besides, gives five Iambi willingly, but shrinks from a sixth ?
How far Milton conformed to the customs of English Verse which he found established, and in what respects he innovated upon these, will appear best after a chronological view of his Poems in the matter of their versification :
in 8 ax
EARLIEST Pieces : 1624. Paraphrase on Psalm CXIV.-Ordinary rhyming Heroics (Iambic Decasyllabics) or the 5 xa couplet; with one couplet 5 xa +.
Paraphrase on Psalm CXXXVI.-Ordinary rhyming lambic Octosyllabics, or the 4 xa couplet ; with a general Trochaic or ax effect, arising from the fact that a good many of the lines, including the refrain, omit the initial unaccented syllable.
THE CAMBRIDGE PERIOD : 1625—1632. On the Death of a Fair Infant : 1626.—A seven-line rhyming stanza, the first six lines 5 xa, the seventh line an Alexandrine or 6 xa. It differs only in this 6 xa ending from the “Rhyme Royal” of the prosodians, used by Chaucer (Clerk's Tale, Troilus and Cresseide, etc.), by Spenser (Ruines of Time, Hymn of Heavenly Love, etc.), and by Shakespeare (Lucrece).
At a Vacation Exercise : 1628.—Ordinary rhyming Heroics.
On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.--Introduction in same stanza as On the Death of a Fair Infant ; but “The Hymn" in a peculiar rhyming eight-line stanza of combined 3 xa, 4 xa, 5 xa, and 6 xa.
The Passion.-Same stanza as On the Death of a Fair Infant.
Song on May Morning.— Ten lines of combined 5 xa and 4 xa, in rhyming couplets; with a Trochaic or ax effect in some of the lines.
On Shakespeare : 1630.—Ordinary rhyming Heroics.
Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester : 1631.—Ordinary Octosyllabic Iambics, or 4 xa couplets, as in Paraphrase of Psalm CXXXVI. ; with the same frequent Trochaic or ax effect from the omission of the initial unaccented syllable.
Sonnets I. and II.-Both in 5 xa and after Italian precedents.
THE HORTON PERIOD: 1632—1638. L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.—Both mainly in ordinary Octosyllabic Iambics, or 4 xa couplets, with the frequent Trochaic effect of a line in which the initial unaccented syllable is missing ; but each Poem beginning with an introductory lyric of ten lines of combined 3 xa (or 3 xa +) and 5 xa (or 5 xa +).
Arcades.—Three lyrics or songs, in 4 xa, 3 xa, and 2 xa, variously rhymed, and with a frequent Trochaic or ax effect ; together with a speech in ordinary rhymed Heroics, or the 5 xa couplet.
At a Solemn Music.—A single burst of twenty-eight lines of combined 3 xa, 4 xa, 5 xa, and 6 xa, rhyming irregularly in pairs.
On Time.—A single burst of twenty-two lines of combined 3 xa, 4 xa, 5 xa, and 6 xa, rhyming irregularly in pairs.
Upon the Circumcision.—A complex rhyming stanza of fourteen lines of combined 2 xa, 3 xa, and 5 xa.
Comus: 1634.—The dialogue in the ordinary dramatic blank verse of 5 xa varied by 5 xa + (the first time of Milton's use of Blank Verse) ; with one passage, however (lines 495—512), in ordinary rhyming Heroics or the 5 xa couplet. The interspersed lyrical pieces of two sorts, viz. : 1. considerable passages of recitative in ordinary Octosyllabics or the 4 xa couplet, with the customary Trochaic liberty in many lines, and occasionally an elongation into Heroics or the 5 xa measure. 2. Songs proper in combined 2 xa, 3 xa, 4 xa, 5 xa, and 6 xa, variously rhymed, and often with a Trochaic liberty in the lines.
Lycidas ; 1637.—With the exception of the last eight lines, which form a separate stanza in the Ottava Rima (5 xa) of Ariosto, Tasso, and other poets, this pastoral is written in a peculiar style, which may be called “The free musical paragraph.” The poet, we see, had not restricted himself beforehand by any rule, unless it were that the measure was to be Iambic or xa, and that the poem should on the whole be in rhyme. Accordingly the poem is an exquisite example of a kind of verse which theorists might perhaps pronounce the most perfect and natural of any,—that in which the mechanism is elastic, or determined from moment to moment by the swell or shrinking of the meaning or feeling. Most of the lines are in 5 xa, but ever and anon this is shortened to 3 xa ; the rhymes are occasionally in couplets, but are more frequently at longer intervals, as if running into stanzas ; sometimes a rhyme affects but two lines, but sometimes it is extended through three or four,-or
-once even through six in the same paragraph ; while occasionally there is a line not rhyming at all, but so cunningly introduced that the absence of the rhyme is not felt (see Introd. to Lycidas, I. 201, and also Notes to the Poem in this volume).
MIDDLE LIFE (PERIOD OF PROSE POLEMICS) : 1640–1660. Sixteen English Sonnets (Sonnets VIII.--XXIII. of the General Series) : 1642—1658.—These, like Sonnets I. and II., are all after the Italian form of the Sonnet in its authorised varieties (see Introduction to the Sonnets, I. pp. 201-6).—The piece On the Forcers of Conscience, belonging to the same series, is a Sonnet with a peculiar prolongation (see Introduction to the piece, I. pp. 216-7). —The metre in the Sonnets is, of course, always 5 xa ; but in the “tail” or
' prolongation ” of the Sonnet in the last-named piece two of the lines are in 3 xа.
Scraps of Translated Verse in the Prose-Pamphlets.—These are all in the ordinary Blank Verse of 5 xa.
Horace, Ode 1. V., Translated.--An unrhymed piece of sixteen lines, in alternate pairs of 5 xa (or 5 xa +) and 3 xa.
Psalms LXXX.-LXXXVIII. : 1648.—All in four-line stanzas of alternate 4 xa and 3 xa, or Iambic “eights and sixes”: differing from the so-called Service Metre only in the fact that the first line of each stanza generally rhymes with the third, as well as the second with the fourth.
Psalms 1.–VIII. : 1653.—Experiments in various metres and combinations of rhyme, no two alike (see Introd. I. p. 246).—Psalm I. is in ordinary rhymed Heroics or the 5 xa couplet ; the others are in various rhymed stanzas, but all the lines in the xa metre, ranging from 2 xa or 2 xa + to 5 xa or 5 xa +.
LATER LIFE : 1660—1674. Paradise Lost : 1667.—Blank Verse of the established 5 xa or 5 xa + measure; the use of which kind of verse for an Epic Poem was regarded by Milton himself as a great innovation upon English practice (see his Preface, II. p. 171, and note on the same in this volume).
Paradise Regained: 1671.–Ordinary Blank Verse of 5 xa or 5 xa + continued.
Samson Agonistes : 1671.-Ordinary Blank Verse of 5 xa or 5 xa + continued, save in the choruses and the lyrical parts of the soliloquies of Samson. In these, as Milton has himself explained (see his Preface to the Poem, II. pp. 587-8, and note on the same in this volume), he held himself released from all rule, and versified as he liked, with a view to produce in English something of the effect of the Choruses in Greek Tragedy. In the main, however, the novelty of the versi. fication in these lyrical parts does not consist in mixture of metres, but only in the use of a blank verse of varying lengths of line in the habitual Iambic or xa metre, from 2 xa to 6 xa at pleasure. Occasionally, indeed, in a whole line, or in part