What is a stylistic analysis of Milton's Samson Agonistes on text relating to blindness and covering lexical, syntactical and phonological levels?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A complete stylistic analysis of portions of Samson Agonistes is, in this confined format, of course impossible, but I can take you through an analysis of ten lines related to blindness.

So fond are mortal men
Fall'n into wrath divine,
As thir own ruin on themselves to invite,
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate, [ 1685 ]
And with blindness internal struck.

Semichor. But he though blind of sight,
Despis'd and thought extinguish't quite,
With inward eyes illuminated
His fierie vertue rouz'd [ 1690 ]
From under ashes into sudden flame,

The first thing you'll notice about theses ten lines is the lexical point that only three lines start with multisyllabic words: insensate, Semichor, despised. Of these, one is a proper noun, and the name of the speaker, while the other two are an adjective and a verb, insensate and despised respectively.  Another lexical point readily noticed is the use of words related to fire or light: illuminated, extinguished, fierie ashes, flame, and, the metaphoric representation of spiritual light, divine.

A prominent syntactical point is that sentence word order doesn't always follow the SVO/C/A (Subject Verb Object/Complement/Adverbial) options for standard sentence order. Looking at the essential form of the sample quotation sentence illustrates this:

So fond are mortal men fall'n into wrath divine, ... And with blindness internal struck.   

The archaic meaning of the adjective "fond" is foolish or silly: So foolish are mortal men .... The word order we have in this sentence is VSC (Verb Subject Complement). We have an adverb (so) modifying an adjective (fond) preceding the linking Verb (are) followed by the Noun Phrase (mortal men), forming the sentence Subject, followed by the compound Complement (fallen into wrath divine and with blindness internal struck). The second part of the Complement (and with blindness internal struck) inverts the word order in several regards.

The compound be verbs, are fallen and are struck, are split, first by the imposition of the Subject (mortal men), then by the imposition of the prepositional with phrase (with blindness internal). The with phrase also has word order inversion. The adjective internal, in Standard English, should precede the noun blindness. The second part of the compound Complement would therefore be: struck with internal blindness.

So fond are mortal men
Fall'n into wrath divine,
As thir own ruin on themselves to invite,
Insensate left, or to sense reprobate, [ 1685 ]
And with blindness internal struck.

A point of phonological interest in the passage immediately above is the switch from emphasis on open vowels to emphasis on sibilant consonants and closed vowels. "As thir own ruin on themselves to invite," is the transition line combining the open characteristics of the first two lines with the upcoming sibilant and closed characteristics of the next two lines. /o/ and /a/ in the first two lines, as in {fond} and {fall} have open back sounds that are warm and relaxing. The nine instances of /s/ in the transition and two end lines add tension through the sound of forced air escaping. The closed /e/ phonemes add to the tension produced by the sibilance. These phonological choices support the meaning of the text and heighten the emotional response to the text.

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