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as the scanning of the first twenty-six lines of Paradise Lost, the double formula in some places indicating an option :
Here only two or three lines are nor
ormal, and there is great variety in the construction of the rest. In ten or eleven cases the xa or Iambus is absent from the first metrical place and we have instead the Trochee (ax), the Spondee (aa), or the Pyrrhic (xx). In thirteen lines the lambus is absent from the second place and we have a Pyrrhic, a Trochee, a Spondee, or even an Anapæst (xxa) or an Antibacchius (aax) instead. In the third place we have five times others reckoned as a, and con tly taking twice
thrice the time in good enunciation. Efficient scanning ought to recognise this fact. In the text, however, I try to make the customary distinction between x and a suffice.
a Trochee, a Pyrrhic, or a Spondee for the lambus, and once an Antibacchius. In the fourth place, besides the Trochee and the Spondee in several lines, we have once possibly a Tribrach (xxx) and once possibly an Anapæst. Even in the last place, though the
. Iambus most decidedly holds its own, there are one or two cases in which natural reading requires, I think, so much stress on the penultimate syllable that the foot becomes a kind of Spondee. Finally, the scanning proves that a line of Blank Verse may admit of a substitute for the lambus in several places, and not in one only.
For a farther and more systematic view of the peculiarities of Milton's Blank Verse it will be best to distinguish his irregular lines (if it be not absurd to give that name to what is so perpetual and habitual) into two classes, according as the deviations from the supposed normal 5 xa consist in substitutions of the other dissyllabic feet (the Trochee, the Pyrrhic, or the Spondee) for the regular Iambus, or in the substitutions of trisyllabic feet (the Anapæst, the Dactyl, the Tribrach, etc.) for the same.
I. DISSYLLABIC VARIATIONS. From the perplexing abundance of examples of such, page after page, take, almost at random, these :
(1) “Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment.
“ Irreconcileable to our grand Foe.”
(30) “ To the flood Jordan-came as then obscure.”
(47) “ For his people of old : what hinders now?" All these lines, it will be observed, are decasyllabic; and so far they are regular. There being only ten syllables in each, the forced Iambic chant might regularise them all completely, or convert them all into strict 5 xa : e.g. “Irréconcíleăblé tổ our grănd Fóe"; "On á sủnbeam, swift ás å shooting stár”; “Grèedílý shé îngórged withbut rěstráint”; “Thăt invincible Sámson, fár rěnówned.” Even where the lambic chant is at its worst, however, it does not inflict such horrors as these, but acknowledges reluctantly that the lines are not to be regularised. A study of the facts puts all formally right by declaring that English Blank Verse admits a Trochee, a Spondee, or a Pyrrhic, for the Iambus in almost any place of the line.
Now, the possible combinations of the four dissyllabic feet xa, ax, xx, and aa in the five places, with the result of a blank verse that shall be good to the ear, are not a matter for arithmetical computation, but for experience. An examination of any one page, however, shows that they are very numerous. It is by no means to be supposed that the foregoing examples represent them all; but in these examples alone a considerable number of interesting variations may be observed. Thus the Trochee for the Iambus is very frequent in them. It appears, if I may trust to my own reading, in the first metrical place in Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 22, 29, 31, 34, 39, 40, 45, 46, giving in each case the very acceptable effect, so common in good blank verse, of a strong syllable now and then at the beginning of a line. I find it in the second metrical place in Nos. 15, 16, 20, 24, 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 42, 44, 47; it comes in the third metrical place in Nos. 11, 12, 13, 23; and in the fourth in Nos. 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 33, 35, 37, 38, 40, 43. The Pyrrhic also is not uncommon. I find it, or seem to find it, in the first metrical place in Nos. 11, 16, 20, 24, 28, 30, 32, 35, 42,
44, 47 ; in the second in Nos. 8, 10, 14, 18, 21, 22, 37, 38, 39, 43, 45; in the third in Nos. 3, 6, 17, 18, 19, 31, 33, 35, 40; and in the fourth in Nos. 26, 34, 39, 45.
One does not like to speak so surely of the Spondee, which is supposed to be rather alien to English speech; and the matter is complicated (as indeed it is in the Pyrrhic) by the delicate question of what the distinction is between accent and mere stress, strength, or quantity. Can a weak syllable, on the one hand, be said to be accented, and a syllable requiring strong or emphatic enunciation, on the other hand, be said to be unaccented ? Without discussing such a subtlety, let me say that I perpetually find in Milton's verse a foot for which “Spondee is the best name, and that it would be difficult to characterise many of his lines otherwise than by calling them Spondaic. In the foregoing examples I find, or seem to find, the Spondee for the lambus, in the first metrical place, in Nos. 4, 5, 7, 15, 18, 19, 25, 26, 27, 38, 43 ; in the second metrical place, in Nos. 2, 3, 13, 30, 35; in the third metrical place in Nos. 7, 10, 21, 26, 34, 41; in the fourth metrical place in Nos. 7, 14, 41 ; and (what is worth observing) in the fifth or last metrical place in Nos. 6, 7, 41, 43, 45.More appears from the examples given than merely that the Iambus may be replaced anywhere in the line by another dissyllabic foot. It appears that there may be not only one such displacement, but several such, in any line, and indeed that one displacement naturally brings others by way of correction or compensation. Thus, of the 47 lines quoted, while some exhibit but one displacement (e.g. Nos. I, 4, 5, 29, 36, 46), there are two displacements in many (Nos. 2, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30, 33, 37, 42, 44, 47), three displacements in 13 (Nos. 3, 6, 11, 13, 14, 16, 19, 24, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41), four displacements in 6 (Nos. 7, 18, 26, 34, 35, 45), and one remaining line (No. 43) with actually five displacements, or not a single regularly placed Iambus in it.
Subtle laws, no doubt, regulate the correction of one displacement by another or others; but the inquiry is too minute here.—One remark bearing on it may, however, be added. It is that the acceptability of a line to the ear, the ease with which it is passed as good or usual blank verse, is by no means in the inverse proportion of the number of its variations from the normal; and, vice versâ, that the strangeness of a line to the ear, the difficulty of accepting it, is by no means in the direct proportion of the number of its variations. Of the 47
. specimen lines twenty-three, or almost exactly a half, are lines which, I think, would be accepted at once, or without much demur, as in legitimate Blank Verse time—viz. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 22, 29, 30, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 45, and 46. The other
if, or twenty-four in all,—viz. Nos. 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 40, 42, 44, 47– are strange lines, out of time with the general rhythm of Blank, and some of them so startlingly so, that, in their detached state, they look like bits of prose, or lines astray from some complex chorus. Well, among those lines that would be accepted at once by everybody as in true Blank Verse time is precisely that No. 43 which is irregular or non-Iambic in all the five places: “Háil, Són of the Móst High, héir of bóth Worlds” (aa, xx, aa, ax, aa). Of the other perfectly or easily acceptable lines, two exhibit four variations (No. 7, with actually four Spondees, and No. 45 with a Trochee, two Pyrrhics, and one Spondee), seven exhibit three variations (Nos. 3, 6, 13, 14, 38, 39, 41), eight exhibit two variations (Nos. 2, 8, 9, 12, 15, 22, 30, 37), and five exhibit one variation (Nos. 1, 4, 5, 29, 46). Of the twenty-four strange lines, on the other hand, one exhibits one variation (No. 36), thirteen exhibit two variations (Nos. 10, 17, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 32, 33, 42, 44, 47), six exhibit three variations (Nos. 11, 16, 19, 24, 31, 40), and four exhibit four variations (Nos. 18, 26, 34, 35).
From the above it results that, though five beats or accents are the normal measure of Blank Verse, yet the number of accents, unless in a peculiar sense of accent, not realised in actual pronunciation, is also variable. In a good many of the lines only four distinct accents can be counted (e.g. Nos. 8, 9, 11, 18, 20, 22, 24, 31, 33, 35, 37, 40, 42, 44, 47). In three lines (Nos. 17, 28, and 39) I can detect but three; and, on the other hand, in a few very Spondaic lines the number seems to mount to six (Nos. 2, 25, 26), seven (No. 43) or even eight (Nos. 7, 41). This diminution of the accents below four or increase above five conflicts, I know, with the common notion of accent, which makes it a mystic something, distinct from stress, strength, or anything that can be perceived in actual enunciation. But I cannot bear a nomenclature which in such a line as No. 7 would call the weak “their” and the strong repeated "who" indiscriminately unaccented syllables, or which would sink the coequality of three words in the following line with the strongest other words in it by saying that it has somehow but five accents :
“ Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shapes of death.” Occasionally there will be found a line which has the full normal number of accents, but only nine syllables: e.g.
“ Self-fed and self-consumed ; if this fail.”
II. TRISYLLABIC VARIATIONS.—Less numerous than the lines that escape fro
the trict 5 xa formula by the substitution of the Trochee, the Pyrrhic or the Spondee, for the lambus, but still very