Are there any special prosodic features to Milton's blank verse?

Is it just unrhyming iambic pentameter, or does it have any restrictions on what the final sound in a line must be like even though they do not necessarily need to rhyme?

I am trying to learn to write in blank verse and in Milton's style. Is there any good companion book that explains extensively the prosodic (sound, metre) features of his Paradise Lost or other poems?

Does he have some habits in word choice for the word at the end of a line?

For example, would placing "child" or "toast" and "wed" together in contrast feel inadequate to him? "child" has a diphthong, "toast" has a long vowel, and they both have two consonants as coda /ld/ /st/, while "wed" would be /d/ codam and a short vowel /e/.

Does he have standards for vowel length, number of consonants, and the codas of words at lines' ends?

  • The verse of PL at least is characterized by a lot of enjambment, not merely in its prosody but in its rhetoric. As line follows line, often without break, the sentences and thoughts tend to keep unfolding longer than expected. This presents considerable challenges both to the reader-aloud and the auditor, as I found in reading PL entire to my father in his blind old age. Dec 31, 2023 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


The standard study of Milton's use of rhythm and meter is Robert Bridges' classic Milton's Prosody: With a Chapter on Accentual Verse and Notes. Revised Final Edition. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921. The book explains Milton's use of unrhymed iambic pentameter in Paradise Lost, including discussions of three variations:

  1. When a line has fewer or more than ten syllables
  2. When a line has fewer or more than five accented syllables
  3. When the feet in a line are other than regularly iambic.

The book goes on to discuss a "relaxation" in Milton's prosodic practice in Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, and concludes with a section on "Obsolete Mannerisms", including recession of accent, spelling, and pronunciation. The monograph is available for perusal and download at the Internet Archive.

Another useful study which builds on (and in some cases disagrees with) Bridges is Milton's Art of Prosody by S. Ernest Sprott, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953. Chapter II of the study, wherein Sprott tries to deduce the general principles of Milton's prosody, would be particularly helpful for your purposes. Chapters V–VIII inclusive parallel the structure of Bridges' treatment of Paradise Lost exactly. This book can be borrowed, but not downloaded, at the Internet Archive.

Gilbert Youmans has an article on "Milton's Meter" in Phonetics and Phonology vol 1, 1989, pp. 341–379. Unfortunately the article is paywalled, but here is the link in case you wish to purchase it or have access via a library: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-409340-9.50017-6.

John Creaser, emeritus professor of English at Oxford U, has three articles on Milton's prosody, but I'm unable to access any of them online. You may have better luck if you have access to an academic library:

  • Creaser, John. “Prosodic Style and Conceptions of Liberty in Milton and Marvell.” Milton Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1–13. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24465208.
  • Creaser, John. “‘Service is Perfect Freedom’: Paradox and Prosodic Style in Paradise Lost.” The Review of English Studies 58. 235 (2007): 268-315.
  • Creaser, John. “‘Fear of Change’: Closed Minds and Open Forms in Milton.” Milton Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 3, 2008, pp. 161–82. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24462119.

Finally, Michael Taylor, then a student at Stanford University, wrote a senior honor's thesis, How Milton's Rhythms Work (2015), under the guidance of Professors Blair Hoxby and Roland Greene. The thesis is available for download at this link.

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