Friday, April 12, 2013

The Joy of Prosody: Dissecting poems of successful poets - John Milton

By Liz Mastin

While trying my best to learn how the great established poets wrote their most celebrated poems, I am consulting an anthology called One Hundred and One Famous Poems. The information inside the front cover states this book is a “true classic among poetry anthologies. It has sold over 4,000,000 copies and is perhaps the most widely read and respected anthology of all time.” It goes on to say: “It is replete with the masterpieces of the greatest poets ever.” Thus, I believe it is a very good collection from which to draw. 

These are the famous poems that endure forever imbedded in a reader’s mind. They are typically written in meter and form. Mankind loves meaningful poetry he can remember.  The poem I thought I would investigate this month is a sonnet by John Milton called “On His Blindness."

On His Blindness
By John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodges with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning chide:
“Doth God exact day labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask; but Patience, to present

That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work, or His own gifts; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’re land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton became blind at the age of forty four years old. It was after this that he wrote “Paradise Lost.” In this sonnet: “On His Blindness,”  Milton talks about how man serves God, even if when doing his best, some men can only patiently stand and wait. John Milton, in his blindness, could only stand and wait and write his excellent poetry.

This is an Italian Petrarchean sonnet because of the enveloped rhyming scheme in the first two quatrains. This sonnet consists of two iambic pentameter quatrains, rhyming abba abba and a final iambic pentameter sestet, rhyming abcabc.

The first two quatrains pose a problem or question, and, the final sestet answers the problem or question.
This sonnet, as well as all true sonnets, is written in iambic pentameter with exactly fourteen lines.
1. When I       2. Con si      3. der how      4. my light spent.

Note: iambs have one weak stress followed by one strong stress. There are five iambs in iambic pentameter. 1. da DUM  2. da DUM  3. da DUM   4. da DUM  5. da DUM

 Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.

1 comment:

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Thanks, Liz. Ever since college I've had a soft spot for John Milton.