If Milton wrote nursery rhymes

Continuing with my (doubts about taking this) course on Milton:

I did email the professor, who answered that I shouldn’t feel so inferior, and probably lots of others in the class also feel as I do (lacking proper background) and not be afraid to ask questions and that perhaps he was not doing enough to give background info.

Which was nice, in itself, but didn’t help much to improve my knowledge. I did continue with my “Basic English Lit” book. Which, if not helping to understand Milton, has added somewhat to missing background info.

However, can’t say I’m getting more optimistic about the course. If anything, I’m feeling more panic.

Last week we were discussing Milton’s “Masque.” I read it and all the accompanying pieces the prof had recommended. Sitting in class I realized I  should have read it at least once more (probably 2-3 times more). My memory sucks. However, I think I did make a “profound” comment by noting that today’s weddings and bar mitzvahs are the 17th century’s masques. Well, aren’t they? Conspicuous consumption at their best!

Now I am reading Lycidas — 165 lines that really could have been expressed in, say, 40.  I hope Milton’s followers won’t organize a lynch party, but … jeez  this guy is very HEAVY. And such a show-off: “Hey guys! Look at all my knowledge about the Greek and Roman myths and stuff.” And VERBOSE!  “Hey man! Look how I can say ‘pass the butter’ in one hundred words or more!”  Heavy, heavy, heavy.

Take an example:

And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jasmine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet. [ 145 ]
The Musk-rose, and the well attir’d Woodbine,
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears, [ 150 ]
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.
For so to interpose a little ease,

It’s like: “Well… if I’m already talking about a flower, let me put in every type of flower I can think of. ” (Here’s another person’s opinion of the flowers in Lycidas. Basically, he’s saying that Milton just stuck in any ol’ flowers.)

Now, I’ll talk about another passage: Lines  64-84.

Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade, [ 65 ]
And strictly meditate the thankles Muse,
Were it not better don as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise [ 70 ]
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears, [ 75 ]
And slits the thin spun life. But not the praise,
Phœbus repli’d, and touch’d my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’ world, nor in broad rumour lies, [ 80 ]
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav’n expect thy meed.

I’ve read it at least five times and still can’t fathom what it means (and that’s reading with annotations and OUT LOUD). (Update, March 26: For a complete analysis of the above lines, go to the Shmoop site.)

It’s like taking some perfectly sensible, simple stuff, and adding in as many words as possible (some of which make no sense?) that need a degree (make that a doctorate) in ancient literature to decipher.

So, continuing with the dog theme of my previous posts, I will do some Milton “magic”  …   catch it here.


Doggie-bury Tails: Prologue in Middle English

Just for fun, I translated (very loosely defined) the prologue  into Middle English.  Find it here.

The Medieval Period: Canterbury Tails

Moving right along, and following my poetry inspired by the Anglo-Saxon period (Walking the Curs) and the Medieval Ballad (Sir Pepper’s Balls), I present to you the “English translation”  (plus one section in Middle English) of my latest, based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Doggy-Bury Tails

The medieval ballad: Sir Pepper’s Balls

Continuing on with “inspired poetry.”  (See my  reasons for doing so, here, and my first, Anglo-Saxon-inspired ditty, here.)

 Sir Pepper’s Balls.  Read it here. 




What’s a nice BSc graduate like me doing in a course on Milton?

The second semester is underway. This semester will, hopefully, be a lot less hectic than the last as I am only taking 2 seminar courses instead of 4 (plus continuing the year-long lecture course in Jewish studies).

Despite the amazing amount of work I had last semester, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. All four courses, actually all five, if you include the Jewish studies course, complemented each other beautifully. Just to reiterate, I took two undergraduate courses — Introduction to Literature (Homer, Virgil, Plato and the like) and American Drama (Williams, Miller, etc.), and two graduate seminar courses — Literary Translation (a practical course) and Contemporary Literary Theory (a humdinger of a course! Tons to read, lots of new jargon to learn. Extremely challenging!). And even though there were a lot of new concepts for me to digest, I found myself engaged in every course, with lots (maybe too much) to contribute to the class. I kept up with the readings and assignments and truly enjoyed every class.

This semester I am taking a seminar course in Hebrew about heterolinguistic translation, which is interesting and engaging and shouldn’t be a problem.

And, I am taking a course on John Milton.


Toward the end of yesterday’s class, the third one so far, I looked around the room, and noted that almost every single one of my classmates  had managed at some point or other to participate in the discussion. Everyone except me! And I realized that almost everyone in the class (everyone EXCEPT me?) probably has a BA in the humanities, if not in English lit, so that all those basic words and concepts that are tripping me up are second nature to them.

The only part of the class I really understood was exactly what the magic square in Durer’s engraving of melancholy was about!


So, I’ve dragged out an old high-school text about literature, and plan to read it from start to finish; or at least up to the part about Milton, and hope I can give myself a crash course so that by the end of this course I won’t feel that I made a dreadful mistake taking it.

Hopefully, I will learn to appreciate this man who seems to have such an extensive fan club.

To make my “crash course on English lit” more interesting, I am challenging myself to do some creative writing at each stage based on the genre under discussion. I started with Anglo-Saxon literature. (See “Walking the Curs,” as  influenced by Beowulf, and more…)

Best get back to it!

(Update: For more on Milton, see the following more recent posts: If Milton Wrote Nursery Rhymes, Aeropagatica, and Please Pass the Butter.)

Walking the Curs: Anglo-Saxon inspiration

To make a long story short, I decided to read “Adventures in English Literature” (a high-school textbook) from beginning to end, since I am feeling quite lost and uninformed in my Milton course. (To get the long story, go here.)

So, starting at the beginning, have just read selections from Beowulf.

So I wrote a poem inspired by it. The rules are:

  1. four principal beats to a line (but any number of syllables),
  2. 3rd beat alliterates with the 1st or 2nd or both,
  3. no rhyme.

You can read Walking the Curs  here, followed by a few other “inspired” selections.