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By our manner of reading Greek and Latin verse, we actually lose nearly all the poetic melody. In hexameters and sapphics, no doubt the two last feet frequently retain their proper melody in our mode of reading, but it is lost almost everywhere else. Most certainly the Greeks and Romans read their verses metrically, that is, with the accent on the first syllable of the dactyl and trochee, on the last of the anapæst and the iamb. This is quite clear, from their lyric poetry, the Odes of Horace for example, for the accents must fall regularly in verses which are to
French verse presents a parallel : the accents in songs are different from those of the same words as ordinarily pronounced; and this seems to have been the case with all French verse, even as low down as Marot, as it was in the Provençal, and to a less extent in Spanish and Italian. It is also the system of our own old verse,
be seen in Chaucer, Gower, and others, down to the sixteenth century.
We will give one line from the Æneis as an example. Virgil undoubtedly read as follows :
Mo's ěrat Héspěrió ’n Lătio, quæ maxima Roma.
Mos é'rat Hespē'rio in Lā'sho, etc.
By changing the quantity and the accents, the melody of the first four feet, it is plain, is quite lost. Must not then the melody which we think we find in alcaics, iambics, and other forms, be almost purely imaginary ? at least, be very different from what the ancients found in them? In Greek we make matters still worse, for neglecting the printed accents which are before our eyes, we introduce the Latin system of placing the accent on the penultimate when long, and of never placing it on the last syllable. *
We will not say that Milton was so negligent of quantity as to say moss for mos, etc., but as we have shown above, he certainly did not read Latin poetry metrically. We doubt if any one did in his time. Bentley, we know, scouted the very idea of that mode of reading it. It has however been revived in Germany, and, we believe, is used by all the scholars of that country.
* We can answer for ourselves that before we learned to read metrically, we often thought that the Greek tragedies might just as well have been printed as prose. Read the fine anapæsts with which the Persæ begins in the modern manner, and then metrically, and mark the difference! We once got a Greek to read some of Homer for us; he read it by the printed accents, and of course we could not discern even a trace of metric harmony. Yet he thought it very fine.
INTRODUCTION TO PARADISE LOST.
ORIGIN OF PARADISE LOST.
It is probable that Milton early conceived the idea of writing an epic poem: but we have no means of ascertaining the exact time, as there is no hint of such a design in anything he wrote previous to his setting out on his travels. The first intimation we get of such a project is in his verses to Manso, at Naples, in 1639.
O mihi si mea sors talem concedat amicum,
Frangam Saxonicas Britonum sub Marte phalanges, etc. From this it appears that, inspired by Spenser and the romantic poets of Italy, the epic which he meditated was to be of a romantic cast, with Arthur the British prince for its hero. From the following passage in the Epitaphium Damonis, written soon after his return to England, it would seem that the poem was to contain all the principal events of British history, from the landing of Brute till the time of Arthur, perhaps by way of narrative or episode, as in the song of a bard, or something of that kind.
Ipse ego Dardanias Rutupina per æquora puppes