Sunday, February 03, 2013

Bird of Paradise (Lost)

Twitter Bird Logo

A few days ago on the Milton List, one of the participating scholars, David Ainsworth, posted this informational bulletin:
As Milton Society Communications Director, I'm here to announce that our Twitter account . . . will begin activity on February 4th with our (and my) first tweet. At the moment, I expect to limit activity to CFPs [=Calls for Papers] and other news and to "Milton Monday," a short quotation from Milton to start off each week. Your feedback and following may dictate changes from there.
And to get us all into the right frame of mind, Professor Ainsworth added a parodic poem in Miltonic style:
On the New Readers of Twitter under the Milton Society

Because you have thrown off your Luddite ways,
And with stiff Vows embrac'd the Internet
To Tweet, email, wall post and I forget
The other terms (to list 'em would take days),
Dare I for this adjure the Civil Word
To force abbreviations (OMG!)
And conform to mere One hundred Forty
Required by /Dorsey/ and that small /Bird/?
Scholars whose Learning, Life and pure intent
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be nam'd @MiltonHeresy
By shallow Tumblr and Face' what d'ye call:
But we hope @MiltonSociety
You'll follow and find worthy of your meed;
This brand-new Twitter feed
May entertain and update you for years,
Clip URLs, though balk at "Me, too" Cheers,
And succor my just Fears
That you shall think, when I take up this charge:
"/New Twitterer/ is but /Old Twit/ writ Large."
Quite an ingenious parody, all the more clearly so if one takes the time to compare it -- particularly line by line -- with Milton's 1646 original:
On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament

Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord,
And with stiff vows renounced his Liturgy,
To seize the widowed whore Plurality,
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred,
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free,
And ride us with a Classic Hierarchy,
Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford?
Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent,
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards and Scotch What-d'ye-call!
But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing, worse than those of Trent,
That so the Parliament
May with their wholesome and preventive shears
Clip your phylacteries, though baulk your ears,
And succour our just fears,
When they shall read this clearly in your charge:
New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large.
See the parallels, the borrowing of words and phrases from Milton's 1646 poem in Ainsworth's parody? Ironically, such poetic parodies won't be seen on Twitter. But I'm no Twitterer, anyway, nor intend to be, so I posted the following response:
I doubt that I can ever please
With poems as short as Twitterese.
In similar spirit, Carol Barton wrote:
To me, it's electronic litter;
I'm not a bird, so I don't Twitter.
At this point, a scholar humorously signing in as "Scrooge" objected to receiving tweets on the Milton List. I realized that he had misunderstood, and sure enough, Professor Ainsworth posted a clarification:
Just in case . . . anyone . . . is unclear, the Twitter feed has no connection with the Milton-L list and nothing posted to it will appear here. My message was informational, aimed at those members of this list who might be interested in the feed or willing to pass along its existence to their students.
Scrooge genially replied, "let a thousand flowers (or birds) bloom," and Carol Barton posted another tweet-worthy message, albeit slightly too long for a tweet:
No beaks out of joint, though I won't Tweet--
Your quest for younger blood is meet.
So Twitter away, and flatten your feathers:
We're still conjoined by friendship's fetters.
But one scholar, Gregory Machacek, having posted before Scrooge's genial concession, saw fit to reply to Scrooge with a challenge: "Avaunt Scrooge":
The devil falls, plots, journies, wavers, spies,
Tempts forewarned Eve, she Adam, Mankind dies.
Brilliant! Milton's entire epic poem in two lines! Would that I had written that . . .

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