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.