steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Reasons not to do a PhD on Milton

Armando Ianucci gave his up, according to Radio 4, in part because he couldn't take Paradise Lost seriously after realizing that its opening lines could be sung to the Flintstones theme tune. Mind, you have to do some strange things to the verse to get this effect:

Of Man's First - Disobedience - and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree

[Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they're the mod-
ern stoneage family.]

You also need a quaver rest before the first Flint, as in the opening of Beethoven's Fifth. I begin to suspect that Ianucci had other issues.

Singing Milton is nothing new, of course. My mother memorized bits of PL when she was at university by setting it to well-known tunes, and later my own childish enquiries about the doctrine of predestination were sure to answered with a lusty rendition of the following, to the tune of Chopin's Funeral March:

Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell;
They themselves decreed their own revolt, not I.
If I foreknew,
My foreknowledge
Had no influence on their fault.

The passage works remarkably well with the Funeral March. The trouble is, the passage itself is wrong - as I realized only when I came to read Paradise Lost for myself. There's a bunch of lines missing in the middle, for one thing, and an added pronoun. More seriously, Chopin has somehow turned the blank verse into a limerick, if a rather gloomy one.

I'm not immune. When I learned guitar as a teenager I spent a lot of time setting the Songs of Innocence and Experience, and I'm still unable to read them without the musical versions ringing in my head. But then, Blake himself was said to have sung rather than spoken his Songs - so maybe that's not such a bad thing?
Tags: books, family history, language
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