Seeing as this thread has been rather inactive I've decided to post the practice ELAT I did (November 2009). Please read it and mark it if you like. Any criticism is welcome.
ELAT November 2009
In both John Milton’s ‘On Time’ and the extract from Shakespeare’s ‘Trolius and Cressida’ the idea of time is discussed and indeed demonized. Both texts, even with similar structure and imagery, convey time in a personalized way as a gobbling beast. Different perspectives and hopes of the speakers, however, disjoin these similarities between the texts. It seems that Milton’s poem has a focus on what occurs after time has been vanquished and Shakespeare’s excerpt is less concerned with the future and instead with reminiscing the past.
Both texts use imagery to covey time as a hungry monster, snatching up events as they pass. In ‘Trolius and Cressida’ Ulysses describes time as having “a wallet at his back/ Wherein he puts alms for oblivion”. It seems that time is actually receiving charity here, the personification of a beggar with his alms is an interesting analogy. Shakespeare uses this comparison to show how we give to time and time cruelly “[devours]” us. Indeed, this idea is portrayed throughout Ulysses’ speech as he describes time as “envious”. We give him the gold that is our lives, emphasized in how Ulysses describes deeds as “new born gawds”, and instead of showing gratitude he takes such “good deeds” as “scraps”. So we see that from the start and end of his speech, time is seen as someone who is given something who then ungratefully devours it for his own liking. In Milton’s poem we see a similar idea of time ”[glutting] thyself with what thy womb devours”. Just like Ulysses, the speaker of this poem portrays the sin of time, the word ‘glut’ alluding to the deadly sin of gluttony and with the potent sound of the ‘t’ at the end of the word disgust resounds from the speaker. Indeed, the word ‘devour’ is used in some form in both texts, the diction of the two writers alluding to a similar picture of an avarice-ridden monster, consuming experiences in its wake. However, even in this regard there seems to be a difference between the two texts. Milton’s speaker almost encourages time to ‘glut’ its appetite, the word being an imperative. The speaker in this poem seems to be in control, demanding time to fulfill its desires rather than the other way around. However, the style of Ulysses is very much different, instead of a commanding tone we see the opposite, a feeble uselessness. Time is in a cool control as “a fashionable host”, Shakespeare implying that time controls the ‘event’ that is life, he is the one that decides to “[shake] his parting guest by the hand”. Time is in control.
In the imagery of the two texts it is clear that there has been similarities and differences. These also exist in the way the texts are structured. Both the poem and Ulysses’ speech have no interruptions, akin to time itself both texts flow continuously without stanza breaks. Milton, unlike Shakespeare, uses rhyme to emphasize a different point. As the words rhyme at the end of the lines, in a cross-rhyming fashion initially, a contrast is represented between what the speaker wants time to do and what it is actually doing. The speaker urges it to “run out thy race”, the word aligned with “pace”, the fast-flowing ‘s’ sounds give the compulsion for time to move faster. Alternatively, what time is actually doing is much different and this is highlighted by the words in-between-“hours” and “devours”. The words are more laborious to say, ‘our’ being half way and ambiguously between one and two syllables, the actual sounds are “lazy-leaden” just as Milton describes. Such a contrast is not seen in Shakespeare’s text as Ulysses does not ask time to do anything. Instead he is controlled by time and this is even seen in the structure of the piece. He describes how deeds are “forgot as soon/As done”. Just as time restricts deeds it also restricts sentences, Ulysses almost forced to stop his speech with a full-stop, the audience being able to notice the pause, as his deeds are forgotten. The word ‘Time’ also seems to control its positioning within the speech. Ulysses personifies time from lines 1 to 31. At the start of this segment is the word ‘Time’ and at the end of the segment is the word ‘Time’. It encloses Ulysses, his thoughts and ideas are preceded and followed by this “great-siz’d monster”, which encapsulates him. Unlike Milton’s persona who orders time- “Fly envious Time, till thou run thy race”, his language littered with imperatives-Ulysses has no control. This is further evoked by the last three lines of this segment as the asyndeton of the list- “For beauty, wit,/High birth…etc”- relate to the enormity of time, able to entrap all of those elements.
Within both texts there have been similarities in how time is presented but differences in the relationship between time and the speaker. This seems to be epitomized by the perspectives of the speakers in what they expect from time. Shakespeare’s extract opens with a look into the past, Achilles’ “What, are my deeds forgot?” Immediately, the focus is on former events and remembrance. In this battle with time Ulysses advises “Perseverance”, one must constantly initiate new ideas in order to be remembered. Re-invention is the key to please “the present eye [which] praises the present object”. This is in fear of being “trampled on” by those behind, a long line of aspiring youngsters who will diminish your past deeds. Indeed, these fears relate to a lack of control as Ulysses knows he will never outlast time, as recognized earlier time structurally and thematically encloses all and so he is a “[subject]” to time itself. Indeed, this seems to be the major difference between the two texts, Milton’s persona knows that he will outlive time into “Eternity” and so feels a sense of potency. It seems that this is also reflected in rhyme, the certainty of the speaker portrayed in couplets. Early in the poem, in a truncated couplet to mirror the loss of time itself, the speaker asserts his power: “And meerly mortal dross;/ So little is our loss,/ So little is thy gain”. The usage of iambic trimetre mirrors the “little” spoken, just as the line receives few syllables time gains little. This certainty of dominance is also seen in couplets later in the poem, for example: “Then all this Earthly grosness quit,/ Attir’d with stars, we shall forever sit”. The resolve and determined certainty of the speaker is mirrored by the perfect rhyme in couplets in the latter half of the poem as the speaker talks of eternity. No such confidence exists with Shakespeare’s text, Ulysses does not “[triumph]” but gives in to time, admitting his enclosure in the “present”.
To conclude, both texts consider time and its malevolence but differ greatly on its power. Shakespeare’s text immediately focuses on the past and this co-exists with entrapment by the perpetual time. However, Milton’s speaker defeats time, assured in his faith by God (the synecdoche of the word ‘Throne’ being significant as it is the only ‘end word’ that does not rhyme within the poem, seen as a pivot in which the world revolves) that time will not defeat him. This gives the speaker confidence, a sense of optimism as he triumphs over time. Overall, it seems that the texts’ major differentiating factor is the attitude of the personas: Milton’s is confident in his faith using imperatives and certainties whereas Shakespeare’s text opens with ambiguity and a lack of confidence as Achilles questions the role of his past actions.
Last edited by Wellie; 12-10-2012 at 10:20.