On the Late Massacre in Piedmont(1)
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant(2), that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.(3)
1 The Vaudois, or Waldenses, a Protestant people living in
the northwestern part of Italy, were subjected in 1655 to
a bloody persecution because they refused to accept
2 The pope, as claiming authority on earth and in heaven
3 Protestants frequently identified the Roman Catholic
church with Babylon.
The above poem is by John Milton. This particular poem was taken from "Poems, Poets & Poetry" by Helen Vendler, pg. 16.
The following paper is an analysis of the poem written by John Milton. I am taking ENGLISH 3000 at the University of Georgia, and this was the poem I chose to analyze. My paper concentrates on the themes within this poem and how they related to the event which inspired Milton to write this moving piece of poetry.
I hope you enjoy it. R. Owen Hatfield
4th section—Penn Perry
Assignment: Analysis of Poetic Form
R. Owen Hatfield
February 1, 1999
I chose an Italian Sonnet for my explication. For this paper, I will be analyzing the poetic form of "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont," by John Milton. A great variety of patterns exist within this particular poem. It consists of image patterns, spacial patterns and time patterns. Milton encapsulated these with an Italian Sonnet. He chose this form because the bloody massacre occurred in northwestern Italy. The Protestants were being persecuted because of their refusal to adopt Catholicism. As he/she cries out to God for action, the speaker of the poem describes these saints' martyrdom vividly.
The most important pattern of the poem is the spatial pattern. Line 1 of the poem begins with the speaker crying "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints". The speaker is 'down' on earth and the Lord is 'up' in Heaven. This downward and upward theme runs throughout the poem. The speaker describes the bones of the slain in line 2 as they "Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains". The next mention of the martyrs is in line 8 with the passage "Mother with infant down the rocks." This downward motion of the saints' bodies continues when the speaker requests of God that "Their martyred blood and ashes sow/O'er all th' Italian fields" in lines 10 & 11. The fields of the earth are the lowest spatial point in the poem that the saints' bodies reach. The fields are also "where still doth sway/The triple tyrant," referring to the pope, who claimed authority in Heaven, hell and earth. Even in death there is the hope that the saints' lives were not given in vain. The story of their martyrdom will be told so "that from these may grow/A hundredfold", as lines 12 & 13 read. These lines give us the downward to upward pattern. Not only will others grow upward (to God) because of the saints' lives, but "having learnt thy way/Early may fly the Babylonian woe." Others will fly upward like and away from Catholicism, presumably, to Heaven.
Another pattern within Milton's poem is his use of images. He uses various images to illustrate what God's people are like. In the first line the speaker refers to the saints as "slaughtered." Biblically, this term usually applies to animals as sacrifices. In line six, we are told what kind of animal the saints are when they are described as "sheep" in a "fold." Few animals are as defenseless as sheep, except, maybe, a "Mother with infant". These are more than just sheep, as well. The speaker of the poem cries to God, calling them "thy slaughtered saints" and "thy sheep." Indirectly, people are also likened unto birds by Milton as "having learnt thy way/Early may fly the Babylonian woe." The danger is escaped by flying upward, like a dove, to escape the dangerous predators of earth.
This poem, an Italian Sonnet, consists of an octave and a Sicilian sestet. The rhyme scheme of the octave is abbaabba, which is contained in the words "bones" "cold" "old" "stones" "groans" "fold" "rolled" and "moans.". The sestet has a rhyme scheme of cdcdcd, contained in the words "they" "sow" "sway" "grow" "way" and "woe." The connecting line, "Their moans/The vales redoubled to the hills, and they/To Heaven" marks the turn from the predominantly downward motion in the poem to upward motion. The echoes from the victims' cries here on earth echo upward from the vale into the ears of God in Heaven. Until this line, the motion within the poem has been downward. The octave is also divided into two sections of four lines each. The first and the fifth lines are offset to the left. Each of these lines begins by calling on God for some particular action. The sestet is also divided into two sections of three lines each. The first and fourth lines of the sestet are offset to the left. Milton works within this structure to tell of the massacre.
Milton also gives us the vantage point, through the speaker, to look at the tragedy in a broad view regarding it's relationship to the past, present and future. In the present, the saints' "bones/Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains," but in the past they "kept thy truth so pure of old." The speaker presently calls on God to "record their groans". In describing what had happened to God's people, in past tense, the speaker goes on to say that they "were thy sheep and in their ancient fold/Slain". The desire for God to do something in the present is expressed with "sow/O'er all th' Italian fields where still doth sway/The triple tyrant". The hope for the future is revealed last. The action has been taking place in the past and present up to this point in the poem. The lesson of the entire poem is in the last three lines. The speaker's hope for the future is that the saints' deaths were not in vain, "that from these may grow/A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way/Early may fly the Babylonian woe."