Thursday, December 23, 2010


“… how he fell
From Heav'n, they fabl'd, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o're the Chrystal Battlements: from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star.”
     -- John Milton, “Paradise Lost"

My students mostly write essays for my classes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect to see poetry in their writing. When I read these lines from Milton this morning, all I could think of was how much I hope to find something like the musical quality of his phrases in the sentences my students write. I absolutely insist that the students consider the melodious aspect of their words as they set them down in sentences and paragraphs. For instance, I encourage them to use alliteration, as Milton does in “fell/ from heaven” – a subtle but exquisite touch – and in “summers day […] with the setting Sun”. I also ask them to consider how assonance, the melodic repetition of internal vowel sounds, might enhance a sentence, as it does in the poet’s “dewy Eve”. I even insist that they be attentive to the use of rhythms in their essays, like the iambic rhythms in the quoted passage. Each of Milton’s lines moves in a stately five-beat cadence, and I look for at least a semblance of that type of harmonious majesty in my students’ weekly essays.

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