Wednesday, September 01, 2010

as ever

Milton's 7th sonnet, "How soon hath Time," bemoaning the passing of his 23rd year & the fact that he has as yet little in the way of accomplishment to show, and even lacks "inward ripeness," ends with this enigmatic sentence:
All is, if I have grace to use it so,
As ever in my great task Masters eye.
(I quote Roy Flannagan's original-spelling version). Already, in the sonnet's sestet, Milton has shifted from bewailing to acceptance; whatever his pace of maturation/production, it will be "in strictest measure eev'n / To that same lot, however mean, or high, / Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heav'n."

The gist of the final lines is clear, restating the sentiments of the four lines before. But how precisely do we parse them? The annotators take a range of stabs at it:

Merritt Hughes cites Lewis Campbell, Pindar, Kester Svendsen, and Donald Dorian, and ends with Dorian's paraphrase:
All time is, if I have grace to use it so, as eternity in God's sight.
John Shawcross offers his own paraphase:
All things are, as they have always been, foreseen by God, my great task-master, just as long as I have the grace to use my inward ripeness as He wishes.
Flannagan quotes Svendsen:
All that matters is whether I have grace to use my ripeness in accordance with the will of God as one ever in His sight.
And Kerrigan/Rumrich/Fallon (this semester's set text) offer this:
All that I do in time is as though done in eternity, provided that I have the grace to act in accord with God's will.
Flannagan/Svendsen makes the most prose "sense" of the passage, tho he's clearly going well beyond the letter of the text ("All that matters"?). Kerrigan et al. would seem to be mildly expanding Hughes/Dorian. Shawcross is as usual pertinent (tho one has to ask whether the speaker's failure to "use his inward grace" would somehow invalidate God's foreknowledge, as Shawcross's syntax implies).

What do these glosses add up to, with all their minor variances & restatements of earlier authorities? They add up to one of those passages, so common in Milton, in which the overall import is fairly clear, but the specific semantic relations among the words are far less so.
LZ, 1963, in I's (pronounced eyes) will refunction Milton into a link between the transcendent, unreachable "blue sky" of Mallarmé and the debased orthography of contemporary advertisement:
as ever
adz aver

1 comment:

Henry Gould said...

I don't know, maybe I read it a little differently. The sestet seems to say (much more concisely) :

It's vain to compare my inner "ripeness" to the outward passage of time, since in the end my destiny is determined by God's judgement; & inasmuch as I am obedient to God (through grace), both Time and "my time" draw "even" - ie. fulfill, as always, this unchanging (ie., "as ever") divine measure.