Straight couches close; then, rising, changes oftstill more by such a juxtaposition as ‘matchless chief.’1 The truth is, that Milton was a harmonist rather than a melodist. There are, no doubt, some exquisite melodies (like the ‘Sabrina Fair’) among his earlier poems, as could hardly fail to be the case in an age which produced or trained the authors of our best English glees, as ravishing in their instinctive felicity as the songs of our dramatists, but he also showed from the first that larger style which was to be his peculiar distinction. The strain heard in the ‘Nativity Ode,’ in the ‘Solemn Music,’ and in ‘Lycidas,’ is of a higher mood, as regards metrical construction, than anything that had thrilled the English ear before, giving no uncertain augury of him who was to show what sonorous metal lay silent till he touched the keys in the epical organ-pipes of our various language, that have never since felt the strain of such prevailing breath. It was in the larger movements of metre that Milton was great and original. I have spoken elsewhere of Spenser's fondness for dilatation
His couchant watch, as one who chose his ground;
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1 Mr. Masson goes so far as to conceive it possible that Milton may have committed the vulgarism of leaving a t out of slep'st, ‘for ease of sound.’ Yet the poet could bear boast'st and—one stares and gasps at it—doat'dst. There is, by the way, a familiar passage in which the ch sound predominates, not without a touch of sh, in a single couplet:—
Can any mortal mixture of earth's mouldSo
Breathe such divine enchanting ravishment?
Blotches and blains must all his flesh emboss,and perhaps
I see his tentsmight be added.
Pitched about Sechem
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