“Of” in Paradise Lost as evidence for the metrical line

Nigel Fabb

Abstract


Abstract in English

In this paper I discuss the distribution of grammatical monosyllables in the iambic pentameter line. I show that in Milton's Paradise Lost, the word OF appears with greater than expected frequency at the beginning of the line; 27% of all instances of OF are in the first of the ten metrical positions, and 5% of all the lines begin with OF, making it the most frequent line-initial word. I suggest that this might reflect the way that Milton uses enjambment in the poem. It also means that OF may function as a clue to the beginning of the line, in the context of other evidence for lineation, essential if the audience is to establish the metrical form of the poem. In constrast, in the eighteenth century blank verse long poems of Thomson and Cowper, the word AND is relatively frequent at the beginning of the line. But Wordsworth uses both OF and AND as frequent line-initial words,(merging Milton's formal practice with the practice of other writers. The paper concludes by reflecting on the relation between statistical characteristics of text and probabilistic aspects of our knowledge of literary form. 

Abstract in Italian

Questo articolo prende in esame la distribuzione di monosillabi grammaticali nel pentametro giambico inglese. Qui mostro che, nel Paradise Lost di Milton, la parola OF compare con frequenza maggiore all'inizio del verso di quanto ci si potrebbe normalmente aspettare; 27% di tutte le occorrenze si trova nella prima delle 10 posizioni metriche, e il 5% dei versi comincia con OF, rendendola così la parola più frequente all'incipit del verso. Questo potrebbe riflettere, suggerisco, il modo in cui Milton adopera l'enjambement nel poema. Ciò significa anche che OF potrebbe funzionare come indizio dell'inizio del verso, nel contesto di altre evidenze per la divisione del poema in tale unità, essenziale se il pubblico deve determinare la forma metrica del poema. Al contrario, nel verso sciolto del 1700 di Thomson e Cowper, è la parola AND a essere relativamente frequente all'inizio del verso. Eppure Wordsworth usa sia OF che AND come all'inizio dei propri versi, fondendo la pratica di Milton con quella di altri scrittori. L'articolo propone infine una riflessione sulla relazione tra le caratteristiche statistiche di un testo, e gli aspetti probabilistici della nostra conoscenza della forma letteraria.


Keywords


metre -- syntax -- probability -- inference -- Milton -- Wordsworth

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DOI: 10.6092/issn.2532-8816/8615

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