TS heavy hitters poll #2: chaucer vs. milton

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I saw Milton v. Homer suggested by I'm averse to doing translated poet vs. untranslated poet. Chaucer's English is obviously quite different from Milton's (Donne would have been more similar, but whatever his peaks I think Milton would have trounced him & besides Blake is the better contender there). Two guys! Two great big books! People who get really deep into Paradise Lost tend to emerge from it thinking it's the best thing of all time! Paglia sets up Milton v. Chaucer in one of her books and reveals herself to have understood exactly nothing of Chaucer. Etc etc! You can only pick one!

Poll Results

OptionVotes
Geoffrey Chaucer 10
John Milton 4


henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:00 (fourteen years ago) link

correction, suggested but I'm averse

henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:01 (fourteen years ago) link

oh MAN

Milton btw

some men enjoy the feeling of being owned (acoleuthic), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:01 (fourteen years ago) link

Milton vs Virgil could have been interesting if Milton wasn't biting Virgil and not being QUITE as good

some men enjoy the feeling of being owned (acoleuthic), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:02 (fourteen years ago) link

I don't read Chaucer much for pleasure tbh.

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:03 (fourteen years ago) link

i've managed to get thru college/life w/o reading the canterbury tales

but i had to memorize 'gentilesse' at one point, i think? not bad.

goole, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:09 (fourteen years ago) link

I think Chaucer is pretty pleasurable despite the work involved. Milton will walk this because he is more of our idea of a modern Artist - focused and always in control of his thing - whereas the Chauce is more of yr scattershot innovator. But I wd take the opening passage of the Canterbury Tales over any one bit of Milton. Milton's prose is a lot better than Geoffrey's but whadda you expect? I will vote Chaucer because I like the worlds he makes whereas Milton is a dude I wd not wanna kiw, and Milton will undoubtedly (probably deservedly) walk this poll anyway.

every time i pull a j/k off the shelf (Noodle Vague), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:13 (fourteen years ago) link

Troilus you guys! It is better than Shakespeare's, I think, and the Shakespeare Troilus is really amazing.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:13 (fourteen years ago) link

There are so many bits in that poem that are so heartbreaking?

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:14 (fourteen years ago) link

haven't actually voted yet as I do need to recollect my Chaucer knowledge

some men enjoy the feeling of being owned (acoleuthic), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:15 (fourteen years ago) link

I like some other bits of Chaucer - pardoner's tale is amazing, prologue is dope obv, but Troilus is totally unique as a written thing in english for like 200 years going forwards.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:16 (fourteen years ago) link

Only one chauce here.

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:17 (fourteen years ago) link

Here is an example of the sort of thing it does? At the beginning the characters are introduced - he is like this, she is like this - then in Bk.5 Troilus gives a speech about how he doesn't know anything any more, if he can't trust Cressid then nothing is real - then Chaucer reintroduces the characters but suddenly the descriptions are full of doubt, like he doesn't know them anymore - it's done so gently? The guy's innovativeness & generousity of spirit are just so striking when you read his contemporaries and they're just incomprehensible savages, and here he is basically being Shakespeare lite.

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:24 (fourteen years ago) link

Milton walks it for me. The greatest, after Shakespeare. God knows there are poets I get on with better, or who are a bit more amenable to me (like the kids working under him in the 50s, Marvell and especially Dryden), but PL is a terrifying & titanic achievement & endlessly fecund. Horrible in so many ways, but that's part of why it's alive - can't help staring at it, struggling with it.

God, there's so much else. 'Lycidas', Comus, cheerleading for king-killing, Areopagitica!, Samson...

He was actually meant to be ok to kiw iirc.

woof, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:39 (fourteen years ago) link

I took a Milton class as an undergrad, resigned to the inevitability of boredom despite my adoration of poetry. Readings of "Comus," the sonnets, "Il Alegro," "Il Penseroso," and, of course, PL convinced me of his genius. PL has dead spots, but it's got surprising momentum (the first three books following Satan after his banishment are probably being studied by Michael Bay), and a baffling conception of God as a great general but cold bastard who knows his greatest enemy is ten times more charismatic.

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:43 (fourteen years ago) link

you read his contemporaries and they're just incomprehensible savages

No, wait, cmon, Gawaine-poet & Langland are both ok guys. At worst they're over-religious bores; the incomprehensible thing is just to do with dialect history.

woof, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:44 (fourteen years ago) link

But 100% otm about the genius of Troilus

woof, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:45 (fourteen years ago) link

I actually didn't mean savages to be dismissive (except of guys like Malory/Henryson, but they're a bit later anyway) - you're right about Langland & the Gawaine poet anyway, their concerns are pretty distant to modern eyes but yeah definitely humane. I was thinking of Gower really :(

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 22:56 (fourteen years ago) link

Horrible in so many ways, but that's part of why it's alive

Everyone so far seems to be broadly in support of Empson's reading of PL - "Milton's poem is so good because his God is so bad", etc - which I had the (probably false!) idea was kind of a minority view - is it? Does anyone strongly disagree?

Gravel Puzzleworth, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:00 (fourteen years ago) link

Nah -- the idea that Satan is more compelling goes back at least to the eighteenth century, when even Blake noticed.

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:01 (fourteen years ago) link

I don't read Chaucer much for pleasure tbh.

the pleasure I get from Chaucer eclipses pretty much everybody else for me, although I don't take him down more than once a year. But his Troilus, for example - the moment at which Criseyde's heart turns, and his tenderness toward that, his refusal to condemn her for being a real person: I cried harder the first time I read that than I think I've ever cried from a book.

Ne me not list this silly woman chide, Farther than that the story will devise;
Her name, alas! is published so wide,
That for her guilt it ought enough suffice;
And if I might excuse her in some wise,
For she so sorry was for her untruth,
Iwis, I would excuse her yet for ruth.

henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:03 (fourteen years ago) link

all of book five, really, is so incredibly modern in its understanding of how a person can stop loving one person even though she doesn't want to...breathtaking.

henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:04 (fourteen years ago) link

man Geoffrey C many years since the first time I read that and here I am cryin away in a hotel room for this sad old world and all the people who can't help hurting each other's feelings and making each other miserable, you wonderful man, you

henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:06 (fourteen years ago) link

Nah -- the idea that Satan is more compelling goes back at least to the eighteenth century, when even Blake noticed.

Further - Dryden in the late 17th says Satan is the hero of PL (I suspect he's primarily talking Epic-technically, like who's centre-stage, early; but he's also I think, on the scent of the Blakean "Devil's Party" line).

woof, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:09 (fourteen years ago) link

Everyone so far seems to be broadly in support of Empson's reading of PL - "Milton's poem is so good because his God is so bad", etc - which I had the (probably false!) idea was kind of a minority view - is it? Does anyone strongly disagree?

I think the dominant academic views tend to be Stanley Fish reader-response (Satan is a trap - we fall for him because we're fallen) or heavily contextual political readings (Achinstein, Norbrook etc). But it's hard to get away from the dynamism of Satan and problems of God if you want to see it as a (gawd elp us I'm going organic) living poem – that whole Romantic line of reading (Blake -> Shelley -> Empson) has vision, is inspiring.

woof, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:24 (fourteen years ago) link

i've never read chaucer or milton. i rilly dig the metaphysical dudes/poetry/era (my kinda stuff!), but i just never picked up paradise lost. i feel like i should have read these guys in college, but i forgot to go to college. maybe when i'm 80! (if my remaining few brain cells haven't died by then.) did milton hang out/know guys like marvell and donne and herbert? i know nothing of his life.

scott seward, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 23:43 (fourteen years ago) link

Milton's too young to know Donne or even Herbert, really; but Marvell's about 10-15 years younger than him and works under him (alongside Dryden, younger again) doing admin for Oliver Cromwell's govt in the 1650s. He's Milton's pick for the job, I think. And down the line Marvell writes a poem for the 2nd edition of Paradise Lost, so I assume they stay mates.

woof, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 00:04 (fourteen years ago) link

A perfect poem:
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
Lodg'd 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-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
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'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 2 June 2010 00:10 (fourteen years ago) link

(incidentally, one of the things I love about Marvell is that he wrote pretty much some of the greatest metaphysical lyrics 20-30 years after that was a fashionable style, and didn't seem to make any effort to publish them - they just turn up in a shady volume published by his widow a few years after his death. Having 'To His Coy Mistress' stuck in a draw somewhere. Yow.)

Anyway, more Milton:

THE Star that bids the Shepherd fold,
Now the top of Heav'n doth hold,
And the gilded Car of Day,
His glowing Axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantick stream,
And the slope Sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky Pole,
Pacing toward the other gole
Of his Chamber in the East.
Mean while welcom Joy, and Feast,
Midnight shout, and revelry,
Tipsie dance, and Jollity.
Braid your Locks with rosie Twine
Dropping odours, dropping Wine.
Rigor now is gon to bed,
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sowre Severity,
With their grave Saws in slumber ly.
We that are of purer fire
Imitate the Starry Quire,
Who in their nightly watchfull Sphears,
Lead in swift round the Months and Years.
The Sounds, and Seas with all their finny drove
Now to the Moon in wavering Morrice move,
And on the Tawny Sands and Shelves,
Trip the pert Fairies and the dapper Elves;
By dimpled Brook, and Fountain brim,
The Wood-Nymphs deckt with Daisies trim,
Their merry wakes and pastimes keep:
What hath night to do with sleep?
Night hath better sweets to prove,
Venus now wakes, and wak'ns Love....
Com, knit hands, and beat the ground,
In a light fantastick round.

woof, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 00:22 (fourteen years ago) link

yeah "when I consider how my light is spent" is a big favorite of mine

henceforth we eat truffle fries (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Wednesday, 2 June 2010 00:42 (fourteen years ago) link

Milton's too young to know Donne or even Herbert, really; but Marvell's about 10-15 years younger than him and works under him (alongside Dryden, younger again) doing admin for Oliver Cromwell's govt in the 1650s. He's Milton's pick for the job, I think. And down the line Marvell writes a poem for the 2nd edition of Paradise Lost, so I assume they stay mates.

― woof, Tuesday, June 1, 2010 7:04 PM (2 hours ago) Bookmark

my prof had told me that marvell was able to spare milton from being executed after the restoration

goole, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 02:38 (fourteen years ago) link

I'm voting Chaucer, not to be contrarian. I find much more pleasure in him. He displays tremendous humor and a deep feel for humanity. Milton strives after grandeur and magnificence, but his more natural counterpart is Dante, and Dante wipes the floor with him, tbh. Try looking at how both of them conceive of pathos, for example.

Chaucer's lines are more fluid, more natural, more traipsing and at ease. Milton allows himself to be stilted, in the mighty effort to raise his language to his theme. Try reading both aloud and you'll hear a huge difference in their control over breath. Chaucer's a bro. I gotta stick with my bro.

Aimless, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 03:29 (fourteen years ago) link

my prof had told me that marvell was able to spare milton from being executed after the restoration

He likely had a hand in it (he's an MP by then, so has a bit of sway), but there are a few aristo-patron types who have the weight get him out of jail. It's a bit of a murky story as things stand - dunno if anyone's dug up a 'hai king, plz let J Milton go free, yrs, Lord Dorset' letter in the last ten years.

Don't think Chaucer's a contrarian choice at all, btw - mostly everything in his praise here is right - he is more humane than Milton, way more likeable, knows people better, has more range, much nearer speech in his verse, is more fun; if I hadn't spent so long with Milton, I might vote C (tho' some of those tales are a bit of a crawl).

I'll defend M's versification, though: the wrangled diction is a hurdle, but the verse does flow beautifully over its paragraphs – it's like you have to take a step back to get a feel for where a passage is going to go, how it will move, but then it becomes a expressive run of sound & rhythm (because it's orally composed, not written maybe?). I think maybe he deliberately cranks things up instead where one might expect to hit a breathing space, but I'd have to read, listen and think to figure that out.

I see why people (Johnson -> Eliot) don't like it - it's very artificial, feels like it comes from nowhere, feels un-English, pernicious influence etc (and for me, yeah, a Donne lyric or Dryden prologue is nearer the demotic heart of what's cool in English verse) - ornate in a way that new/practical crit bridled at. But it's extraordinary – the Romantics especially have to struggle with its music as well as its vision.

woof, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 10:40 (fourteen years ago) link

I think I'm going to go for Chaucer as well in fact. For everything Aimless said, but also his play with concepts/parodies of existing form like romance and exempla etc in the Tales, in that respect as well as some others he fits in a line for me with Cervantes and Rabelais. He's also genuinely, warmly funny and pricks at pomposity. Troilus is also superb - genuinely moving and occasionally (also funny).(and d'aw Treatise on the Astrolabe).

Seems as good a place as any for the Robert Henryson anecdote (Scots poet who 'completed' Chaucer's T&C with his Testament of Cresseid), with him on his death bed, suffering v badly from constipation, servant takes the initiative, gets in local witch, who tells him to run round the hazel tree at the bottom of the garden, reciting a rhyme, which will cure him. He says to her, gesturing at a tressel, 'I might as well run round that thrice saying 'Oaken bord Oaken bord make me shit eyn harden tord'. Died a day later.

Got totally sidetracked by Comus while supposed to be studying Pope at uni, wonderful, wonderful poem. That's a delightful excerpt, woof (wtf kiw btw?) Areopagitica and PL are obv great, as well, but yeah, plumping for the ranging humanity of GC.

GamalielRatsey, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 11:06 (fourteen years ago) link

It is a lovely passage, isn't it? Steps and skips and turns. And of course Milton STRONGLY DISAPPROVES of the attitudes expressed therein.

kiw = kick it with

woof, Wednesday, 2 June 2010 11:13 (fourteen years ago) link

Not really on-topic, but it mentions Chaucer and is retrospective. I like it a lot.

Since 2,800 years, Homer is dead;
His mouth more often filled with verses than with bread.
A-squat on the sun-hot stone, in the glare,
Blind to the lyrical sun,
And a blind man's fingers light on the sensitive lute.
Still, still the polysyllabled sea-rush rolls to our shore;
The singing voice is mute.

Lo! Ferlies befalleth where is love-gladness,
'Neath moon-sleight in orchard when pierceth love's madness.
Silken the song, spun of air, in the dew,
Tense with the immanent muse,
And coins & castles,heaulmes & politics their song.
Where now are the stones? Where is the bright hair of those women?
Gone, all, the long-gone dead along.

Dante Alighieri! Impelled by Love & led
By Wizardry, his death-mask hangs above my bed.
Pre-Raphaelite the work, the laurel leaves
Parnassian, smutched with gilt.
Pale eyes burned in the ivory stillness of that face;
Clothed in a white geometric vision, he stalked
Unsoiled through the market-place.

Dan Chaucer next, our 'fount of English undefiled'.
And would he, from his customs house, have smiled
At such a laurel, so bestowed?
Here there is no aroma
Of Dutch cloth, or coarse-grained bags of spice,
But an air as of conversations with Boccace,
And memory of Provence.

Ravens by starshine, by sunlight, in wind, in rain,
Have pecked poor Francis Villon skin & bone again.
Shrivelled the restless tongue, the nicked lip,
Empty the mock-lit eye.
Sunlight spills pattern of rose on cathedral floor,
Seine breaks under bridges; dark firelight & laughter
Leap from the tavern door.

The names fall now as in the roll-call of Dead Lords:
Douglas, Golding, Pope, each of glittering word-hoards.
Savage Landor, then ancient Roman,
Wrote for seventy years in stone.
The recent laureate, Browning happily shares
With Hardy, who endowed puppets with nobility,
And Yeats, that pursuer of arcane hares.

And old Ez, folding his blankets in Pisan meadows,
Unlocked his word-hoard, as of this troop of shadows.
You who have walked by Cahors, by Chaluz,
Made Odyssean landfall,
Your voice is as old as the first dead in my song,
And would you might perceive herein, such strength in gentilesse,
Such subtlety, as tips your tongue.

-- Peter Whigham, "Homage to Ezra Pound"

alimosina, Saturday, 5 June 2010 01:15 (fourteen years ago) link

wow that is a really lovely poem!

get your bucket of free wings (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Saturday, 5 June 2010 01:29 (fourteen years ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Monday, 7 June 2010 23:01 (fourteen years ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Tuesday, 8 June 2010 23:01 (fourteen years ago) link

sorry M, but take heart:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?

tetrahedron of space (woof), Thursday, 10 June 2010 09:48 (fourteen years ago) link

three years pass...

With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons, and their change,—all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glist’ring with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful ev’ning mild; then silent night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heaven, her starry train:
But neither breath of morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glist’ring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful ev’ning mild, nor silent night
With this her solemn bird, nor walk by moon
Or glittering starlight, without thee is sweet.

druhilla (k3vin k.), Sunday, 22 September 2013 04:22 (ten years ago) link

two years pass...

a little topical milton, from book 12 of PL, this easter

. Dream not of thir fight,
As of a Duel, or the local wounds
Of head or heel: not therefore joynes the Son
Manhood to God-head, with more strength to foil
Thy enemie; nor so is overcome [ 390 ]
Satan, whose fall from Heav'n, a deadlier bruise,
Disabl'd not to give thee thy deaths wound:
Which hee, who comes thy Saviour, shall recure,
Not by destroying Satan, but his works
In thee and in thy Seed: nor can this be, [ 395 ]
But by fulfilling that which thou didst want,
Obedience to the Law of God, impos'd
On penaltie of death, and suffering death,
The penaltie to thy transgression due,
And due to theirs which out of thine will grow: [ 400 ]
So onely can high Justice rest appaid.
The Law of God exact he shall fulfill
Both by obedience and by love, though love
Alone fulfill the Law; thy punishment
He shall endure by coming in the Flesh [ 405 ]
To a reproachful life and cursed death,
Proclaiming Life to all who shall believe
In his redemption, and that his obedience
Imputed becomes theirs by Faith, his merits
To save them, not thir own, though legal works. [ 410 ]
For this he shall live hated, be blasphem'd,
Seis'd on by force, judg'd, and to death condemnd
A shameful and accurst, naild to the Cross
By his own Nation, slaine for bringing Life;
But to the Cross he nailes thy Enemies, [ 415 ]
The Law that is against thee, and the sins
Of all mankinde, with him there crucifi'd,
Never to hurt them more who rightly trust
In this his satisfaction; so he dies,
But soon revives, Death over him no power [ 420 ]
Shall long usurp; ere the third dawning light
Returne, the Starres of Morn shall see him rise
Out of his grave, fresh as the dawning light,
Thy ransom paid, which Man from death redeems,
His death for Man, as many as offerd Life [ 425 ]
Neglect not, and the benefit imbrace
By Faith not void of workes: this God-like act
Annuls thy doom, the death thou shouldst have dy'd,
In sin for ever lost from life; this act
Shall bruise the head of Satan, crush his strength [ 430 ]
Defeating Sin and Death, his two maine armes,
And fix farr deeper in his head thir stings
Then temporal death shall bruise the Victors heel,
Or theirs whom he redeems, a death like sleep,
A gentle wafting to immortal Life.

k3vin k., Sunday, 27 March 2016 18:17 (eight years ago) link

seven years pass...

English peasant from 1400 after I explain the concept of jacking off to him:

Sikerly, Y wele it wit when ye seyn "bust a nut", but that l axe, why ne had thou put thine seed withinne a fair yong womman, levere than lat falle upon thine sherte?

— Fred (@CannyExecutive) February 14, 2024

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 15 February 2024 09:09 (four months ago) link


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