Despite what seems to a modern audience the old fashioned nature of both his subject matter and his language, Milton is still arguably the greatest of English poets. My own predilection is for Tennyson but, as he himself put it, he never found a subject worthy of his immense poetic talents. Milton on the contrary had Paradise Lost.
It is on that work that his fame essentially rests, though I suspect there are few now apart from scholars of English Literature who have read it through. And even these are less common, because many universities now no longer insist on knowledge of a canon of great works. Certainly it would take a great deal of enthusiasm to read through Paradise Lost for pleasure. I suspect I would not do so myself now, so I am lucky that in my distant schoolboy days I was determined to get through it.
This turned out to be a pleasure. The sonorous lines roll on like a wave, starting from the resounding introduction
Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of EDEN, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse…..
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ AONIAN Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert th’ Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
There are splendid set pieces, such as the description of Abdiel who did not give in to the temptations of Satan
So spake the Seraph Abdiel, faithful found
Among the faithless, faithful only he Continue reading