John Milton (1608 – 1674)


He was an English poet & political writer. His most popular work is “Paradise Lost”, which was written in 1667 & revised in 1674. Then in 1671 he wrote “Paradise regained” & “Samson Agonistes”, which were published in one volume.

Milton is the most dramatic figure in all the English literature. Critics call him “the battling Milton”, because his life was “a drama of 3 acts”. His soul was divided between 2 great aspirations & that was his tragedy. It was a wrestle between his pure poetic genius, which is clearly seen in his early writings & the puritan spirit of righteousness that was fully summoned in him by the Civil war. He dedicated himself to the cause he considered to be just. He suppressed poetry in his veins until the cause was lost. He set himself in seclusion to the task envisioned long before the epic, in which he hoped to justify the conclusions of his soul. His life was a drama in 3 acts: the 1st one discovers Milton in the calm & peaceful retirement in his father’s home at Horton, where he wrote beautiful poems, full of elegant metaphors, & poetic expressions. The 2nd act is the foul atmosphere of Civil war, the atmosphere of hatred that he breathed. He goes to participate in the war on the side of puritans & acted as Cromwell’s secretary. At that time wrote political pamphlets, trying to defend the nation. He summoned all his talent to prove that a nation has a right to execute Charles I and this was considered as a murder by the rest of the world. The blind & friendless he writes his “Paradise lost”, “Paradise regained” & “Samson Agonistes”. These are the works that exhibit the promethean grander of the poet, who rose up alone against the foreign world.

His wife left him soon & it was quite a blow for him, because of his puritan vision of life. This was folloed by the fierce pamphlets on divorce, addressing to the parliament. His wie’s comeback & their reconciliation seem to be described in the “Paradise lost”, where the repentant Eve seeks comfort & forgiveness from Adam.

Milton worked hard for Cromwell’s party 7 under Cromwell he wrote several pamphlets to defend the idea of revolution & the choice of English people. These works were written in Latin & to this period of time we can attribute Milton’s sonnets & these sonnets may also serve as a memorial of the time. But the devastating times were coming (1st marriage – unhappy, 2nd marriage was blighted by the death of his wife). Loss of sight, the overthrow of the puritan party, the captivity of practically all his friends, final retirement in loneliness were the influences that changed his influence to life & gave him this promethean grander of the poet, who rose up alone against the foreign world.

Shakespeare died at 52 & Milton at this age was reborn as a poet. For 10 more years he dictated his works, which made English literature unforgettable for practically all nations in the world.

“Paradise lost”

It was published in 1667. It took its final form between the Restoration & the Great Plague. In 1637 when Milton was in Italy he had the idea of a great national epic. Then he changed his mind & started planning a great biblical play. 1642 – he had an outline for himself – a tragedy of Adam imparadised. Circumstances did not allow Milton to carry out his plan – he decided to frame his poem on epic lines again. At first Milton did not want to give such a prominence to the rebellion of Satan, to cosmic & demonic interests. His outraged sense of justice & injured pride were given an outlet in the monologues of Satan himself, though Satan should not be assumed to be Milton. He was a bearer of Milton’s irritation & impatience with God. Satan is the agonist who struggles as Milton had struggled & reacted as Milton had reacted. “Paradise lost” was written in blank verse & is considered to be the 1st considerable example of that kind of literature.

“Paradise lost” is divided into 12 books. With the greatest dignity of thought & language it expresses the circumstances of the fall of the man. . Milton gave a lot of fictitious detail which in the course of time has sprung up 7 which imagination of the poet could supply. The fact remains that the 1st 2 books of the work, though in fact nothing more than a gigantic introduction, are the richest part in the literary sense. The Heaven as Milton describes it is the gallery of pure theological reason. It’s cold, absolutely detached from any representation of life 7 this could not be otherwise in the work of a poet who held God the Father as absolutely ennoble & not understandable or not indescribable. The scene of sin & death, the journey through chaos, the add to light at the beginning of the book 3, the temptation, the nature there after all thses episodes are marvelously executed.

The description of the Pandemonium is the most important place of the book. Milton’s description of battles between the angels, the forces of God & the followers of Satan reminds the earthly battles & even is affected by the military costume of the 17th century.

Milton’s idea about the knowledge is a forbidden sphere. Milton himself was a combination of a person, who adhered to the principles of renaissance & his idea of freedom as such was very much alike those of great scholars of renaissance. But on the other hand he was a puritan, a man, who was to impose certain restrictions on the freedom of human being & this or that aspect of Milton’s soul took the upper hand.

Man & woman made one unity:

Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,

Godlike erect, with native Honour clad

In naked Majestie seemd Lords of all,

And worthie seemd, for in thir looks Divine

The image of thir glorious Maker shon,

Truth, wisdome, Sanctitude severe and pure,

Severe but in true filial freedom plac't;

Whence true autoritie in men; though both

Not equal, as thir sex not equal seemd;

For contemplation hee and valour formd,

For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace,

Hee for God only, shee for God in him:

Milton’s attitude to the idea of forbidding knowledge:

…all is not theirs it seems:

One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge call'd,

Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidd'n?

Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord

Envie them that? can it be sin to know,

Can it be death? and do they onely stand

By Ignorance, is that thir happie state,

The proof of thir obedience and thir faith?

O fair foundation laid whereon to build

Thir ruine!

Milton gives the state of Adam & Eve after their extension. He shows that though they realize their sin & take their fate with dignity – they are on to meet the destiny.

Some natural tears they dropp’d but wipp’d them soon

The world was all before them where to choose

Thir place of rest & Providence thir guide

They hand in hand with wondering steps & slow

Through Eden took thir solitary way…

Milton makes us believe that Adam represents the whole mankind & he stands for a series of Falls: 1st – his own Fall as an individual; 2nd – he’s responsible for those who come after. Adam stands for Milton’s own ideas of puritan fall, failure & revolution. Adam’s disobedience aims to remind us that from the disobedience comes the way to return to Paradise & a man will come who will return people there justifying God’s ways to men. Here Milton is quite vague, because he can’t find any rational explanations; he can’t tell how to achieve it.


“Paradise regained” & “Samson Agonistes”

It was 1st published in 1671, 4 years after “Paradise lost”. Inthis book Milton represented the circumstances of redemption. This work is of 4 books. It’s not an epic; it’s a kind of semidramatic account. This book, as far as the structure goes, is opposite to “Paradise lost”

The whole book is mostly a debate between Christ & Satan. The figures are not even similar to the corresponding figures in the previous book. Satan behaves himself as an allowed leader of the opposition. “Paradise regained” & another Milton’s book “Samson Agonistes” came in one volume.

“Samson Agonistes” is very much different from “Paradise regained”. It’s a tragedy & we can say that in this work Milton’s poetry found its completion. “Paradise regained” is less intense, less titanic & doesn’t have the dramatic vision of life. “Samson Agonistes” shows Milton’s using of all his strength & the experience of all life time, his satisfaction that at last he could implement his project of giving the world a sacred tragedy.

Samson represents Milton himself. Milton’s purpose was to free his country, he was blind like Samson. He had an unhappy marriage & had been delivered into the hands of godless enemy.

This is a poem, in which we see strong in spirit. The poem is curiously unadorned. It has little excitement, & it depends on delicate psychological ideas & accents. Here Milton once again shows that he is not defeated. This gives dignity to his verse & splendor to the ideas the verse expresses.

Milton is the last Renaissance poet, who could embrace the vision of the epoch.

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