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Milton's missing rhymes.

In his prefatory note on "The Verse," attached to the second edition of Paradise Lost, Milton first explains "why the Poem Rimes not" by an appeal to cultural authority, aligning himself with a Classical and epic tradition--"that of Homer in Greek and of Virgil in Latin"--with "some both Italian and Spanish Poets of prime note," and with "our best English Tragedies." Eventually, though, the force of his explanation is to justify his poetic ways by invoking a higher authority. When he decries "the jingling sound of like endings" as "trivial and of no true musical delight" (my emphasis), he clearly implies that he derives his sense of decorum not from cultural norms but from a more absolute arbiter of what is "apt" and "fit."(1) Furthermore, when Milton aligns himself with "ancient liberty" while associating rhyme with "vexation, hindrance, and constraint" as well as calling it a "troublesome and modern bondage," although there is a historical and cultural context invoked, the essential opposition here is not ancient to modern, but liberty to bondage. Eventually, then, Milton's argument against rhyme rests on two values: truth and freedom. O.B. Hardison explains Milton's sense of the relationship between the two in this way: "Changes forced on the poem by the need to preserve rhyme falsify the words breathed into the poet by the Muse. In other words, they make truth into a lie" (272). Thus, while Milton's note on "The Verse" gestures in passing to a cultural context, the final authority invoked is Milton's divine muse and the final need is that the verse not be constrained from speaking the truth by the need to rhyme. Ultimately, this brings the focus of Milton's argument onto the relationship between his formal choices and the subject matter of Paradise Lost.(2)

However, to examine the local and general effects of Milton's method within the text of Paradise Lost, one must proceed in a peculiarly negative fashion, for an abiding effect of the note on "The Verse" is to encourage attention to that which is absent. Milton alerts us to the fact that the poem "Rimes not," then proceeds to explain "why the Poem Rimes not," thus leading us quite logically to wonder how the poem rhymes not. That is, how does the poem's absence of rhyme oppose itself to rhyme's alleged triviality and illusory pleasure? Surprisingly, though, in considering how Paradise Lost proceeds not to rhyme, one may wonder whether Milton has not made his own "truth into a lie," for it becomes apparent that in a variety of ways--most subtle, some less so--Paradise Lost does indeed rhyme. Consider these passages, for instance:

By Sacred Unction, thy deserved right. Go then thou Mightiest in thy Father's might. . . . (6.709-10)

One of the heav'nly Host, and by his Gait None of the meanest, some great Potentate. . . . (11.230-31)

It is couplets such as these that encouraged John Diekhoff, in one of the few discussions of rhyme in Paradise Lost, to comment upon "the vague impression of rhyme given by certain passages in Paradise Lost, and the presence of a few obvious rhymes" (539). Diekhoff identifies seventeen rhymed couplets and, in a poem of over ten thousand lines, it is possible that an argument might be made for the occurrence of a certain number of rhymes on the grounds of probability alone.(3) If this were the only way in which the poem rhymed such an argument might be plausible, but when one begins to examine the sound patterning in Paradise Lost, a systematic use of rhyming sounds is apparent: a pattern emerges in which rhyme manifests itself in a variety of ways, occasionally erupting into proper couplets such as those above.

In fact, despite Milton's protestations, rhyme may be construed as quite appropriate to Paradise Lost. Rhyme, a partial echo or phonemic sameness in difference, is a figure of equivalence.(4) Paradise Lost, like many epics founded on analogical structures, abounds with figures of narrative and thematic equivalence. Adam is made in God's image, while Satan on his throne in Hell is an infernal reflection of God in Heaven. In Book 8, Adam notes that all the beasts have mates, and he wants his own sameness in difference, Eve. On a temporal axis, Adam and Noah are equivalent figures, as are Eve and Mary. The tree of knowledge of good and evil prefigures the cross, just as Christ's incarnation, a descent into the flesh, reenacts Adam and Eve's fall, while his resurrection enables the completion of the analogy, humankind's salvation.

Frequently, thematic equivalence is manifested as textual echo. In Book 10, Eve tells Adam that she will accept all the blame for their sin: "There with my cries importune Heaven, that all/The sentence from thy head remov'd may light/On me" (933-35). Her sentiment for sacrifice here resonates with an earlier speech by Christ in which he volunteers to suffer for humankind's redemption: "me for him, life for life/I offer, on mee let thine anger fall" (3.236-37; note here that not only the sentiments but the lines' terminal sounds echo each other: all/light; life/fall). Beyond such felicitous echoes, equivalence may be heard in numerous ironic or inverted echoes. Early in the poem, Adam and Eve are described: "Thus talking hand in hand alone they pass'd/On to their blissful Bower" (4.689-90). Both the companionship and the isolation take on new significance with the eventual echo: "They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,/Through Eden took thir solitary way" (12.648-49). In an example showing an even fuller inversion, the corresponding fires in Hell and in Heaven create a sense of echo as a mirror image: "from those flames/No Light, but rather darkness visible" (1.62-63) as opposed to "a flaming Mount, whose top/Brightness had made invisible" (5.598-99). John Hollander cites these lines as part of a pattern of "self-echo," arguing that "such patterns are quite basic to the fabric of Paradise Lost" (Figure 51).

Apart from such textual reverberations, there are even rhyme-like echoes among sounds that are part of the action of the poem. In Book 9, for instance, Satan's report of his triumph elicits a hissing response from his audience. This sound ironically prefigures the halleluiahs, that are "as the sound of Seas" (10.642) with which the heavenly audience responds to God's version of the story. In fact, this is really a three-way rhyme, the ultimate echo being the penitential sighs that the episode eventually elicits from Adam and Eve at the conclusion of Book 10.

Thematic and narrative equivalence, then, are essential to Paradise Lost, and this equivalence often crosses a line into textual and phonemic echo. Thus in keeping with the concern Milton has expressed that his versification accord with his subject matter, it seems that the more localized phonemic equivalence of rhyme is entirely appropriate to the poem. The rest of this essay will examine the variety of ways in which the poem does actually rhyme and attempt further to relate those rhymes to the themes and structure of the poem. Using the presence of a smattering of rhymed couplets as a point of departure, I will consider variations along two different axes, one of sound and one of space. That is, I propose first to look at ways in which contiguous lines may be rhymed to a greater or lesser extent, and then to consider ways in which rhyme remains phonemically exact but has its force diminished or altered by a change in the spatial (or more properly, temporal) relationship between the rhyming elements.

Moving acoustically away from the perfectly rhymed couplet, it becomes apparent that a careful examination of virtually any passage of Paradise Lost will reveal numerous partial rhymes of varying degree.(5) For instance, in a 30-line section of Book 3 (480-510), one may find "Paradise"/"disguis'd"; "lo"/"coast"; "awry"/"see"; "aloft"/"off"; and "drawn"/"saw." These examples include only pairs associated by assonance or consonance near the end of the words. Additionally, pairs that alliterate initially include "Beads"/"Bulls"; "unknown"/"untrod"; and "Gate"/"Gold."

Although Milton's extensive deployment of enjambment generally tends to diminish the aural force of contiguous partial rhymes (or even full rhymes), there are exceptions:

He pluckt, he tasted; mee damp horror chill'd At such bold words voucht with a deed so bold. . . . (5.65-66)

This my long sufferance and my day of grace They who neglect and scorn, shall never taste. . . . (3.198-99)

In each example, the coincidence of syntactic boundaries and lineation, along with structural balance, enhances the partial rhyme. Additionally, the aphoristic nature of God's pronouncement in the second example adds to the lines' couplet-like force.

Reinforcement by sense and syntax is just one of the ways in which the aural force of partial rhyme may be augmented. Sometimes, a rhyme may be extended beyond two lines, as in three-way partial rhymes such as "bends"/"wind"/"stands" (4.981-83) or "soon"/"seen"/"sign" (4.995-98). In other instances, rhyming pairs that seem to echo only faintly reveal a fuller phonemic relationship upon closer inspection. For instance, these rhymes involve anagrammatical relationships:

Th' animal spirits that from pure blood arise Like gentle breaths from Rivers pure, thence raise. . . . (4.805-06)

Is rising, who intends to erect his Throne Equal to ours, throughout the spacious North. . . . (5.725-26)

Here, although "arise" and "raise" phonemically share only the final consonant sound, their congruence is heightened by their relationship as perfect anagrams of each other. Similarly, while "Throne" and "North" can scarcely even be construed as partially rhyming, they are not only near-anagrams, but are in fact phonemic mirror images of one another.

Additionally, there are congruences beyond the actual sounds of the text that may enhance a partial rhyme. Consider these examples:

Flown to the upper World; the rest were all Far to th'inland retir'd, about the walls. . . . (10.422-23)

Deliverance for us all: this enterprise None shall partake with me. Thus saying rose The Monarch, and prevented all reply. . . . (2.465-67)

By the waters of Life, where'er they sat In fellow ships of joy, the Sons of Light. . . . (11.80-81)

The first citation exhibits something common in Paradise Lost, a departure from full rhyme only due to the presence of a terminal plural or past tense marker. Applying the same principle to the second citation, however, results in a more complex set of local dynamics. At first hearing, "rose" and "reply" are unrhymed. However, each is the completion of a partial rhyme with "enterprise," an aurally intermediary term. But beyond this, lurking nearby within the grammatical paradigms of these words, are found "rise," present tense of "rose," and "replies," inflected form of "reply," terms that complete a full rhyme. Similarly, "sat" and "light" offer only a faint phonemic echo of each other, but performing a type of grammatical inversion--bringing "sat" into the present tense, while moving "light" into the past tense of its verb form--discovers "sit" and "lit," a perfectly rhymed pair. In each of these cases, only a partial rhyme is heard within the phonotext itself, but somewhere just out of earshot, hovering along the paradigmatic axis, are full rhymes. It is as if the rhymes are grammatically attenuated, a phenomenon curious in itself, but perhaps a logical element in Milton's more general practice of rhyming while not rhyming.

Ants Oras has examined Milton's system of "terminal correspondences," which he describes in this way: "Vowel echoes (assonance) often supported by consonantal correspondence, are used to pattern and organize the verse. Sometimes, largely for intensified effect and emphasis, phonetic similarity is carried to the point when it becomes identity, resulting in rhyme" (175-76). Oras proceeds to examine the first eighty-three lines of Paradise Lost, finding not only echoing verse endings, but pattern and structure as well: "there is throughout a strong tendency towards distinct phonetic patterning, sufficient for the creation of architectonic design, yet never rigid. Balance and symmetry, not infrequently of an elaborate kind, constitute important elements in the total structure" (181). What Oras finds, then, is a less audible analog of rhyme, or rhyme made less pronounced by a diminution of the "jingling of like endings" and by the absence of any fixed pattern of repetition.

In his analysis, Oras concentrates on the larger sense of structure and neglects the effects that such attenuated rhyming can have on a more local level. That is, just as full rhyme functions structurally to identify the line by announcing its end, the sounding of partial rhyme may serve a similar purpose in a less emphatic way. Thus these partial rhymes may work along with Milton's "apt numbers, and fit quantity of syllables" to enhance the aural identity of the line and thus offer a rhythmic counterpoint to his "sense variously drawn out from one Verse into another." Also, these partial rhymes may, just as full rhyme does, create the expectation of rhyme. As I hope to show, both the fulfillment and the frustration of this expectation can be meaningful to the reader.

Moving even farther from full rhyme, beyond the realm of rhyme that sounds, similar effects are achieved by what can be called subject rhyme. In these lines, describing Satan's shield, the endings semantically echo each other:

Ethereal temper, massy, large and round. Behind him case; the broad circumference Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb. . . . (1.285-87)

Apart from being figuratively analogous to rhyme, the linking of these three end words by what might be called a sememe of circularity enforces our sense of the line ending as an event or a locus of emphasis. Neither is this an isolated phenomenon. A few lines along, "Pine," "Mast," and "wand," all describing Satan's spear, end lines 291-93. Sometimes end words oppose each other, as this pair so frequently does:

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n. . . . (1.262-63)

Here, the structural interplay of balance and opposition help approximate the effect of a couplet, thus encouraging rhyme-like responses; the first term creates expectation for the second, while the second term satisfies that expectation as it invokes the memory of the first. Equally striking are these lines in which interlocking pairs of terminal words (involving a semantic relationship between time of day and that time's celestial harbinger) suggest something very like an ABAB rhyme scheme:

Sheer o'er the Crystal Battlements: from Morn To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve, A Summer's day; and with the setting Sun Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star. . . . (1.742-45)

Like the partial rhymes at line end, these semantic rhymes serve to enforce line identity and to focus attention on the line's end. As Milton's need to explain its absence implies, the event that habit encourages readers to expect at this location is rhyme.

There is one other type of phonetic deviation from full rhyme that is worth mentioning in passing and which can perhaps be construed as having similar structural, though different rhetorical, effects. This deviation is not away from exact echo, but rather toward it. It is the case of exact homophony. An example of this, called rime riche when it was more highly regarded, would be the rhyming of "groan" and "grown" (6.658-61). More numerous in Paradise Lost are contiguous lines that end in the same word. One can even identify degrees of this practice, ranging from individual words repeated, to concluding phrases repeated, to almost entire lines repeated:

May I express thee unblam'd? since God is Light, And never but in unapproached Light Dwelt from Eternity. . . . (3.3-5)

only our Foe Tempting affronts us with his foul esteem Of our integrity: his foul esteem Sticks no dishonor on our Front. . . . (9.327-30)

To pray, repent, and bring obedience due. To Prayer, repentance, and obedience due. . . . (3.190-91)

Note that even when the repetition is exact, in each case the grammatical function of the repeated words shifts; a syntactic difference works against a lexical sameness. While this may deviate from proper rhyming, within the context of rhyme as a deviation itself in Paradise Lost, these types of equivalent line endings may accomplish certain rhyming effects: they enforce the identity of the line and, by serving as like endings, they help to create a general expectation of like endings.

Having examined departures from the rhymed couplet by variations in sound, we may now consider spatial deviations from this mythical norm. Perhaps the most aurally prominent of such deviations is Milton's frequent use of internal rhyme. Amongst a plenitude of such rhymes, a few special cases are noteworthy. In what could be termed an embedded couplet, the rhyming words are exactly one line apart, but not at line ends:

the Fiend Saw undelighted all delight, all kind Of living creatures new to sight and strange. . . . (4.285-87)

There are also couplets in which one rhyming term is slightly displaced:

On flow'rs repos'd, and with fresh flow'rets crown'd, They eat, they drink, and in communion sweet. . . . (5.636-37)

So spake the Universal Lord, and seem'd So ordering. I with leave of speech implor'd. . . . (8.376-77)

In the first example, "eat" arrives exactly one foot too late to form a perfect rhymed couplet, while in the second "Lord" arrives one foot too early. Close in effect to the latter example are the numerous internal rhymes that are also in contiguous lines, but with one of the rhyming words more toward the middle of a line. Related to the former example are the many instances in which a word within a line rhymes with the final word of that line, rhymes which are often made more pronounced by coinciding with a caesura. For instance: "The brazen throat of war had ceased to roar" (11.713) or "And tempt not these: but hast'n to appease" (5.843). Finally, in its most compressed form, the internal rhyme may occur in adjacent feet: "Wherefore didst thou beget me? I sought it not" (10.762).

These varieties of internal rhyme work structurally in opposition to the partial rhymes already discussed in that they tend to undermine the integrity of the line, building aural units that break the pentameter, sometimes cross line breaks, and thus act in counterpoint to the line. On the other hand, they, like the partial rhymes, contribute to the density of echoing sound in the poem and thus also encourage the expectation of such echoes.

Before proceeding, one anomalous (as far as I know) example of a type of displaced rhyme is worth noting if only as a curiosity. These lines shortly precede Eve's tasting of the fatal fruit:

so glister'd the dire Snake, and into fraud Led Eve our credulous Mother, to the Tree Of prohibition, root of all our woe: Which when she saw, thus to her guide she spake. . . . (9.643-46)

Mark Vaughn points out that the first letters of these four lines form an acrostic, spelling out the word "slow." He wonders whether the acrostic is thematically relevant; is it a hidden warning (7)? For present purposes, "slow" is very apt here, rhyming as it does with "woe." Rather than being displaced into a line or across several lines, this rhyme is displaced onto an entirely different axis of reading. In order to discover such a marginal rhyme, the reader's eye must travel in the same "tract oblique" by which Satan moves in those lines earlier in Book 9 that form an acrostic of his own name (510-14).(6)

Finding such a rhyme on the very edges of the poem might keep one mindful of the ever-present possibility of rhyme, and as the expectation of rhyme is enhanced, one may notice the frequent occurrence of rhymes that are beyond the bounds of contiguous lines. J. M. Purcell, responding to Diekhoff's study, counts 56 instances of end rhyme separated by only one line, 72 separated by two lines, and 51 separated by three.(7) Once again, this may not seem like a very significant number of rhymed lines, roughly four percent of all the lines of Paradise Lost. However, if we extend our auditory range a bit to include internal rhymes and partial rhymes, there exist enough echoing elements to make many passages stand out as especially dense in rhyming effects. Consider, for example, these lines:

Reasoning to admiration, and with me Persuasively hath so prevail'd, that I Have also tasted, and have also found Th' effects to correspond, opener mine Eyes, Dim erst, dilated Spirits, ampler Heart, And growing up to Godhead; which for thee Chiefly I sought, without thee can despise. For bliss, as thou hast part, to me is bliss, Tedious, unshar'd with thee, and odious soon. Thou therefore also taste, that equal Lot May join us, equal Joy, as equal Love; Lest thou not tasting, different degree Disjoin us. . . . (9.872-84)

Heard here is a surprising density of rhyme for an unrhymed poem. Two sets of full rhymes ("me"/"thee"/"degree" and "Eyes"/"despise") are interlaced, with the "I" of line 873 hovering phonemically between as a partial rhyme to both sets. Regarding other terminal sounds, "found" finds a partial rhyme with "correspond" in the following line, "Heart" is heard echoing in "part" three lines later, "Lot" and "Love" form an alliterative pair, and even "bliss" and "soon" share a prominent sibilant phoneme. Additionally one may note the internal rhyme of "me" and "thee" (an embedded tetrameter couplet) in lines 878 and 879, and the echoing of "join" and "Joy" in line 881. Attuning one's ear to such various rhyming produces a sense of acoustical texture in the poem, granting aural prominence to passages such as this one. Significantly, this development of texture relies in large part on the absence of regular end rhyme. It is a way in which Milton, by not rhyming, makes his rhymes most effective.

In considering only rhymes separated by no more than three lines, Deikhoff and Purcell constrain the device within the traditional bounds enforced by stylists such as Puttenham, who in The Arte of English Poesie implies that there is a certain distance across which rhymes are no longer effective: "We make in ends of our verses a certaine tunable sound: which anon after with another verse reasonably distant we accord together in the last fall or cadence: the eare taking pleasure to heare the like tune reported and to feele his returne" (90). Thus, if the according verse is more than reasonably distant, the ear will not be able to recognize the return of the "certain tunable sound." Here again, Milton loosens the bonds of rhyme, for if we so constrain our sense of rhyme in Paradise Lost, we overlook many important rhymes that are ten, twenty, or even a hundred lines apart. In Puttenham's view, such rhyming would be ineffectual. Yet in the context of Milton's rhyming practice, these rhymes do have force. Before pursuing this, a consideration of just how rhymes do "have force" would be useful.

John Hollander catalogs four functions or effects of rhyme: "mnemonic" (which will have some relevance here); "schematic," in which rhyme is used to mark or emphasize boundaries and to play off against syntactic or metrical structures (already discussed here with regard to Milton); "musical," what he calls "the chime of the rhyme as an accompaniment of pure sound to the sense of the text" (Milton may encourage one to wonder how any sound is ever innocent of meaning); and "semantic," in which he follows W. K. Wimsatt in arguing that "the likeness of sound enforce[s] a juxtaposition of senses in the syllables involved, whether for comparison, contrast, or both" (Vision 120-21). That is, when words are rhymed, the reader tends to consider the possibility of some meaningful semantic as well as phonemic relationship among them. Rhyming pairs such as "uproar"/"tore" (2.541-43), which share a sememe of violence, and "sung"/"tongue" (7.601-03), which entail an obvious action/agent relationship are (to use Hugh Kenner's term) "reasonable rhymes." Perhaps expectations for rhyme are most salient when they are thwarted, as in W. S. Gilbert's rhyming of "hypotenuse" and "lot o' news," a rhyme whose absurdity results from an equivalence of sound being thoroughly undermined by other differences. Not only is a semantic relationship difficult to construe, but as Debra Fried observes, "three words are put in a position of equivalence with one long word; a group of solidly Saxon monosyllables measure up to a single Greek polysyllabic word" (88).

Our expectation of semantic relationships among rhymed words also informs our reading of Paradise Lost. In the course of the poem, Milton exploits that expectation to develop a thematic relationship among certain clusters of rhyming words. This thematic relationship then allows these words to rhyme effectively with each other across substantial distances within the poem. One such cluster is developed in the invocation at the beginning of Book 3. The central word of this cluster is "light" (lines 3, 4, 51).(8) Associated with it here are "flight" (15), "night" (18, 71), and "sight" (55, 61). The subject is Milton's physical blindness and the compensatory poetic vision granted him by the grace of God's light. Throughout the passage, the thematic unity of the cluster allows the rhyming terms to resound in spite of their separation. Through the mediation of "light," the relationship between Milton's sight and his visionary flight is enhanced. Meanwhile, it seems that "night" is an ever-present shadow, the negation of the cluster's positive terms. In the course of Book 3, more rhyming attributes will come to be associated with God's light, especially "right" (98, 155) "might" (170, 398), and "bright" (587, 591, 645, 655). In general, as these rhyming components appear, their identity as manifestations or aspects of God's radiant goodness is already established by way of their phonetic echoing of that "light."

A rhyming pair whose relationship is established early in the poem is that of "woe" and "foe." The pair is loosely associated in the first two books, as in these lines from Book 2: "and who knows,/Let this be good, whether our angry Foe/Can give it, or will ever?" (151-53); "we are decreed,/Reserv'd and destin'd to Eternal woe" (159-60). In Book 4, however, two things happen:

Your change approaches, when all these delights Will vanish and deliver ye to woe, More woe, the more your taste is now of joy; Happy, but for so happy ill secur'd Long to continue, and this high seat your Heav'n Ill fenc't for Heav'n to keep out such a foe As now is enter'd; yet no purpos'd foe. . . . (367-73)

First, the relationship, both aural and thematic, between the words is reinforced as they appear in terminal position just a few lines apart. Second, whereas previously "foe" had always referred to God and the "woe" had been Satan's, now Satan names himself as the foe and the woe becomes that of Adam and Eve. When the "foe" finally does beguile Adam and Eve to "woe" in Book 9, this pair returns to reverberate forcefully. Eventually, whether they appear near each other or not, the one always invokes the other. This sense of the "missing" rhyme will be elaborated upon at a later point. However, here it is clear that rhyming words separated by many lines may recall each other, evoking an elusive, yet very real sense of rhyme.

Moving to the opposite extreme, away from rhymes which are distributed far apart throughout Paradise Lost, we find those instances in which the rhyme compresses beyond even the action of echo to the point that it is contained within a single word. This is the action of the pun. Debra Fried writes, "Rhyme and pun are twins. They both join words that have no association by sense but only by sound" (83). Hugh Kenner goes so far as to claim that the pun is "the completest form of rhyme. Not merely the vowels, not merely the terminal consonants, but every phoneme in two words will coincide" (74). Here we move further toward identity to the punning construction in which those two homophonic words actually occur in the same phonemic space in the poem. The difference in this sameness lies in the meaning, not the sound or location. Frequently, Milton uses this type of pun to create an ironic doubling of meaning. For instance, when Milton describes the rebel angels joking among themselves at their temporarily successful use of gunpowder against the heavenly troops, the pun indicates that the joke is on them:

So they among themselves in pleasant vein Stood scoffing, Highth'n'd in thir thoughts beyond All doubt of Victory. . . . (6.628-30)

Here the reader knows that while their scoffing may be "in pleasant vein," their efforts are "in vain," nonetheless; they will lose the battle in spite of their infernal ingenuity. This ironic doubling invokes a supplementary meaning hovering around the primary sense of the word. So while the phonemic string represented by the letters "vein" sounds only once, it signifies twice, is in a sense heard twice, and in this way creates a type of rhyme.

One may also sense a doubling in cases where a word or phrase invokes a nearly but not quite homophonic echo. Again, in Paradise Lost this is usually done to ironic effect. Perhaps the best example is Adam's less than pious exhortation to Eve after their tasting of the forbidden fruit:

if such pleasure be In things to us forbidden, it might be wish'd, For this one Tree had been forbidden ten. But come, so well refresh't, now let us play. . . . (9.1024-27)

Here, Adam's invitation is recognized as a perversion, aurally invoking its less fallen near homophone "Let us pray." Again, although only the one phrase may be sounded in the reading, both are heard as the ironic echo is elicited. In fact, in this instance the actual text, "let us play," is more like the completion of the rhyme, for it is that which echoes the more pious suggestion already familiar to the reader.

A slightly different type of duplicitous phonemic deformation may be suggested as Eve mulls over Satan's compelling words:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz'd, which to behold Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound Yet rung of his persuasive words, impregn'd With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth. . . . (9.735-38)

We recognize, although Eve does not, that Satan is a perverter of "reason" and "truth," thus it is possible to hear in the ringing of his words a suggestion of "treason" and "ruth": a temporary chiastic deformation producing a perverted rhyming pair, but nevertheless a highly appropriate echoing for this scene of betrayal and eventual remorse.

This leads quite logically to a similar type of pun-like doubling that can be found in Paradise Lost. This effect involves a phenomenon which Garrett Stewart has called the "transegmental drift." It results from a phonemic slippage in which the location of a lexical boundary shifts as a phoneme drifts loose from one word and attaches itself to the adjacent word. As an illustration, here is Stewart's own example from Paradise Lost: Belial asks his cohorts, what if "this Firmament/Of Hell should spout her Cataracts of Fire" (2.175-76). Stewart describes the final phrase of this as "segmentally ambiguous," pointing out that it can be heard as either "cataracts of fire" or "cataracts of ire" (148). The two are for the most part acoustically indistinguishable. And with the strong association developed in Book 2 between God's ire and the fire that has been rained upon the rebel angels, it is understandable that one should evoke the other.

In other instances, the relationship between the graphic reading and its ghostly phonemic twin has not been built up thematically and acoustically in the course of the poem but is rather the result of purely local dynamics. In these lines, Adam chides Eve for listening to the serpent, who was "true in our Fall, /False in our promis'd Rising; since our Eyes/Op'n'd we find indeed" (9.1069-71). Acoustically, the boundary between "our" and "eyes" is illusory. Thus it can alternately be heard as "since our Rise." Structurally, this would balance nicely against the terminal "Fall" in the preceding line, while the echoing of "Fall"/"False" also encourages the expectation of an echo for "Rising." The appropriateness of this alternate reading, however, is fleeting, for when the corner is turned into line 1071, the developing syntax of the sentence reasserts the validity of the graphically endorsed interpretation of the phonemes: "our Eyes," rather than "our Rise." This fleeting effect is elicited by Milton's deployment of enjambment, which often leaves a sentence ambiguous at line's end, forcing the reader to carry temporarily across the line break two different interpretations. As the next line proceeds, one of the interpretations becomes no longer viable. Such is the case here, and the effect is also thematically functional in that for the reader, as for Adam and Eve, after the ephemeral sensation of "rise" vanishes, the now opened "eyes" see it for the illusion that it was.(9) Appropriately enough, this ambiguous construction is related to what linguists call more generally a "garden path" sentence.

A reading attuned to the transegmental drift, then, can induce the brief flicker of a ghostly rhyme, a temporary interpretive doubling. However, the principles discussed thus far can be extended to rhymes that are even more illusory. These are the missing rhymes: evoked, but not sounded; expected, but deferred. Debra Fried has explored the ways in which a set of rhymed words tends to call to mind further, as yet unspoken, rhyming words, especially words which fit semantically into the rhyming group. She writes, "we may suspect that the well-crafted couplet, even as it fosters the fiction of rhyme as echo to the sense, runs the risk of awakening echoes of all the lurking phonetic cousins of the rhyming word" (84). By developing semantically related complexes of rhyming words, Milton has encouraged his reader to believe in the relation of sound and sense. Thus in Paradise Lost, it is no surprise to find, loitering within the meaning of a passage or line but unstated, the suggestion of a word that rhymes with one or more of the relevant line ends. A previously discussed passage in Book 3 contains a transitional example of one of the many deferred, rather than completely missing, rhymes in Paradise Lost. The implicit subject is Milton's blindness. In the first twenty lines of the book, "light," "flight," and "night" all appear at line endings. The missing rhyme here is "sight," the topic under discussion. Actually, it is not really missing but only deferred, and when it does arrive at the end of line 55, it does so in a significant position: it is the last word of the invocation of Book 3. Thus through the completion of the rhyme the thematic closure of the invocation is enforced by coinciding phonemic closure.

Not all missing rhymes need to be evoked by an established complex of rhyming words. Sometimes a single word can resound clearly enough with an implicit theme or subject to create the same effect. An example of a rhyme withheld for not a long time but to good effect can be found in Book 10 as Satan completes his report to his confederates back in Hell. He ends by exhorting them to "up and enter now into full bliss" (503). Of course, the response he expects here is not forthcoming, and the ironic rhyme for his expected bliss is the now serpentine audience's hiss, described in the next few lines, with the actual word itself eventually appearing in line 508.

Similarly, in Book 9 there is a missing rhyme that our familiarity with the Edenic myth tells us must eventually be completed. Eve has just tasted the fruit:

such delight till then, as seem'd In Fruit she never tasted, whether true Or fancied so, through expectation high. . . . (787-89)

Here, the missing rhyme for "true" is the negation and eventual result of Eve's "expectation high": "rue" (perhaps the actual phonemic presence of "rue" in both "true" and "through" is a subtle testimony to the potential for regret in the situation). This is a rhyme that the reader knows must eventually be completed and it is, when remorse catches up with Eve nearly 400 lines later: "but I rue/ that error now" (1180-81).

Not all instances of missing rhymes are eventually completed. In some cases, the evoked rhyming word is left as a shadowy presence, implicit in the sense of the passage, very real, but aurally elusive and never finally manifesting itself in the text. In Book 11, Michael shows Adam this scene:

These two are Brethren, Adam, and to come Out of thy loins; th' unjust the just hath slain. . . . (454-55)

The unspoken word, present in the meaning and in the echoing of its rhyme word "slain" but otherwise absent is, of course, "Cain." Perhaps the narrative necessity of not revealing to Adam the murderer's exact identity keeps us from considering this omission purely a matter of literary technique. On the other hand, at the close of Book 11, the absence of a rhyming component serves a clear thematic purpose: "till fire purge all things new,/Both Heav'n and Earth, wherein the just shall dwell" (900-01). Here "Hell" is missing. It is the logical and customary companion word for "Heaven" and "Earth," but in this allusion to the apocalypse Hell is banished from creation, remaining only residually in the phonotext as an echo of "dwell."

One further example does not seem to entail these thematic considerations. Rather, it seems that the rhyming term is blatantly withheld. Here Michael is informing Adam of the curse upon him:

And send thee from the Garden forth to till The ground whence thou wast tak'n, fitter Soil. . . . (11.261-62)

The missing rhyme word, "toil," is all but present in several ways. Obviously, it is the subject of the passage. It also rhymes with "soil," half rhymes with "till," and is a hybrid of the two words. Finally, it is prominent in the familiar biblical intertext: "cursed is the ground because of you;/in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life" (Genesis 3.17). Because it is evoked so strongly here, there is a curious way in which the very absence of this word makes it all the more obtrusive. The final effect of this presence in absence is that these two lines give a very palpable sense of rhyming, but do not.

This, too, is the general sensation of reading Paradise Lost. It is an unrhymed poem that gives the impression of rhyming. The answer to the question "How does the poem not rhyme?" is that it does not rhyme by rhyming subtly, irregularly, and in a variety of thematically and structurally meaningful ways. Most importantly, attention to the creative deployment of rhyme in Paradise Lost--full and partial, internal and end-of-line, phonemic and semantic, resounding and barely audible--engages the reader in a phonotextual drama of memory and desire that is central to Milton's versification. Further, it seems to be because it is unrhymed that Paradise Lost may rhyme so effectively. Obviously, in a rhymed poem the "missing" rhymes would lose their force because they would no longer be missing. But also, the richness, density, and variety of echoes would be lost beneath the incessant noise of regular end rhyme. Even the development of clusters of rhyme words over large areas of text would be hampered, their distant echoes unable to recall each other amidst such a glut of rhyme.

Finally, to reinvoke Milton's value of aptness, perhaps full rhyme is not thematically appropriate for Paradise Lost. The couplet exemplifies completion, balance, and fulfillment, while this is a poem about loss, absence, and deferral of fulfillment. It seems that the missing rhyme, on the other hand, is especially appropriate. Paradise Lost after all figures forth a world where that which is present to the senses is expected to signify that which is not. In Eden, and later as well, Adam and Eve are surrounded by signs. How those signifiers present to them do or do not evoke the appropriate absent signifieds is one of their central problems. In a sense, the world for them is like these attenuated rhymes. It is a world of expectations satisfied in unforeseen ways and a world full of echoes ironically calling the past to mind.

There may be a variety of ways, then, to construe Milton's "non-rhyming" as "answerable" to his "high Argument." In his discussion of prelapsarian language and Milton's use of etymology in Paradise Lost, John Leonard writes, "Milton is not, of course, under any illusion that he is actually recovering Adam's language; his etymologies create something imaginatively analogous to that language" (233). One can also construe Milton's development of thematically related rhyming pairs and clusters as an imaginative gesture toward that prelapsarian language. These rhyming groups are activated by a tacit acceptance of the necessary fiction that their phonological relationship implies a semantic relationship. A world in which sound infallibly invokes sense is a world of fully motivated signs, signs with necessary connections to their referents. That, after all, is what Eden is. Adam is able to name the animals not because he knows the language--"I nam'd them, as they pass'd, and understood/Thir Nature, with such knowledge God endu'd/My sudden apprehension" (8.352-54)--but because he understands their essences. Each animal has its own nature and only one name can appropriately reflect that nature.

If semantically active rhyme in a sense imaginatively hearkens back to Edenic language, can the principle be extended to construct other analogies between poetic form and ideal forms? Milton's note on "The Verse" implies that it can. As argued at the outset of this discussion, Milton authorizes his style by invoking an absolute--that is, theological--poetic authority. I believe that theological justification for Milton's general rhyming practice in Paradise Lost may be found in the construction of "true musical delight" within the poem. Specifically, in looking at the presentation of true, unfallen pleasure, both in general and regarding music, two characteristics are prominent: variation and subtlety.

Clearly, variation is an important aspect of life in Eden. For instance, observe Eve preparing the meal:

What choice to choose for delicacy best, What order, so contriv'd as not to mix Tastes, not well join'd, inelegant, but bring Taste after taste upheld with kindliest change. . . . (5.333-36)

Variation is also a primary principle of creation in general. Thus in their hymn to God, Adam and Eve exhort the spheres to "let your ceaseless change/Vary to our great Maker still new praise" (5.183-84). And such variation is valued in heaven, for Raphael tells Adam that there, "wee have also our Ev'ning and our Morn,/Wee ours for change dilectable, not need" (5.628-29), a heavenly variation which elsewhere is praised as "grateful vicissitude" (6.8). Not only is there an obvious rationale here for Milton's "sense variously drawn out," but these passages also imply that, in contrast to the tedious "tinkling" sameness of traditional rhyme, the variety of Milton's rhyming practice is clearly in accord with a heavenly principle of delight in judicious variation.

If rhyming is a tedious musicality, it is all too human also in the obviousness of its patterning. Yet what pattern may be discerned in Milton's music? Perhaps it is something analogous to that portrayed by Raphael, who describes the dancing of angels while invoking a larger principle of celestial harmony:

Mystical dance, which yonder starry Sphere Of Planets and of fixt in all her Wheels Resembles nearest, mazes intricate, Eccentric, intervolv'd, yet regular Then most, when most irregular they seem: And in thir motions harmony Divine. . . . (5.620-25)

Milton's sound patterning, including his various rhyming strategies, is certainly "eccentric" and "intervolv'd," while evoking "mazes intricate." And in its vacillation between regularity and irregularity, there is always the suggestion that just beyond our aural grasp lies a pattern, perhaps one of "harmony Divine." Again, this is not to suggest that Milton claims to reproduce a divine harmony in his versification. He is, finally, writing for a fallen audience, an audience that would not recognize that harmony if it heard it. As Raphael must do when describing heavenly matters to Adam, Milton must work "By lik'ning spiritual to corporeal form" (5.573). He must use the material substance of his language to evoke something which that fallen language itself can never fully embody. Thus in his rhyming practices he strives, by various and subtle means, to give us an imaginative sense of a harmony that is beyond our knowing.


1 Unless otherwise noted, I have followed the text in identifying Milton's own emphases with italics. Underlining is used for my own emphasis, primarily to aid the reader by marking rhyming words under discussion.

2 See Clark for a thorough discussion of seventeenth-century debates concerning the propriety of rhyme.

3 J.M. Purcell, in response to Diekhoff, disallows some of Diekhoff's examples but adds a couple of his own and also arrives at the total of seventeen.

4 I here follow Jakobson (358-69) in understanding equivalence as a defining feature of poetic device in general and rhyme in particular.

5 I use the term "partial rhyme" to avoid restrictions engendered by prior definitions of other terms such as "half rhyme" or "off rhyme." As will be seen, I apply "partial rhyme" to a wide range of phonemic echoes, from minimal pairs that depart from full rhyme only by the voicing/unvoicing of a consonant (such as "flies"/"Paradise" [5.274-75]) to pairs that share only a prominent vowel sound ("grow"/"unknown" [9.618-19]) and at times even to pairs that only alliterate.

6 The lines alluded to are these:

this with her who bore Scipio the highth of Rome. With tract oblique At first, as one who sought access, but fear'd To interrupt, side-long he works his way. As when a Ship by skilful Steersman wrought Nigh River's mouth or Foreland, where the Wind Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her Sail. (9.509-15)

The passage seems full of coded encouragement to read acrostically: "with tract oblique," "At first," "side-long he works his way," and "veers oft." See Klemp for a discussion of this acrostic as well as some historical background on the practice.

7 Since Purcell's search turned up more examples, I cite only his statistics. For the record, Diekhoff finds 45 instances of end rhyme separated by only one line, 52 separated by two lines, and 27 separated by three.

8 Christopher Ricks explores the the thematic ramifications of this rhyming cluster in considerable detail (105-111) but fails to place the technique in the context of any larger pattern of rhyming effects within the poem.

9 The fleeting ambiguities created by Milton's line breaks are best explored by Hollander ("Sense Variously Drawn Out," Vision and Resonance [91-117]); the foundational work on how the rhetorical strategies of Paradise Lost may script the reader's own reenactment of the fall is of course Stanley Fish's Suprised by Sin. My mode of reading here is also indebted to Stewart's discussion of "phonemic reading" (2-3) and the force of "the ephemeral in language" (39) throughout Reading Voices.

Works Cited

Clark, Arthur Melville. "Milton and the Renaissance Revolt against Rhyme." Studies in Literary Modes. Edinburgh: Oliver, 1946. 105-41.

Diekhoff, John S. "Rhyme in Paradise Lost." PMLA 49 (1934): 539-43.

Fish, Stanley. Suprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. New York: St. Martin's, 1967.

Fried, Debra. "Rhyme Puns." On Puns: The Foundation of Letters. Ed. Jonathan Culler. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. 83-99.

Hardison, O. B., Jr. Prosody and Purpose in the English Renaissance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989.

Hollander, John. The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After. Berkeley: U of California P, 1981.

-----. Vision and Resonance: Two Senses of Poetic Form. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1985.

Jakobson, Roman. "Concluding Statement: Linguistics and Poetics." Style in Language. Ed. Thomas Sebeok. Cambridge: MIT P, 1960. 350-77.

Kenner, Hugh. "Pope's Reasonable Rhymes." English Literary History 41 (1974): 74-88.

Klemp, Paul J. "'Now Hid, Now Seen': An Acrostic in Paradise Lost." Milton Quarterly 11 (1977): 91-92.

Leonard, John. Naming in Paradise: Milton and the Language of Adam and Eve. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Indianapolis: Odyssey, 1957.

Oras, Ants. "Echoing Verse Endings in Paradise Lost." South Atlantic Studies for Sturgis E. Leavitt. Ed. Thomas B. Stroup and Sterling A. Stoudemire. Washington, DC: Scarecrow, 1953. 175-90.

Purcell, J. M. "Rime in Paradise Lost." Modern Language Notes 59 (1944): 171-72.

Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie. 1906. Kent: Kent State UP, 1970.

Ricks, Christopher. "Sound and Sense in Paradise Lost." Essays by Divers Hands 39 (1977): 92-111.

Stewart, Garrett. Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.

Vaughn, Mark. "More than Meets the Eye: Milton's Acrostics in Paradise Lost." Milton Quarterly 16 (1982): 6-8.

Wimsatt, W. K. "One Relation of Rhyme to Reason: Alexander Pope." The Verbal Icon. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1954. 153-66.
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Title Annotation:poet John Milton
Author:McCauley, Lawrence H.
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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