Everything You Wanted to Know about John Milton

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 31, 2012 | Go to article overview

Everything You Wanted to Know about John Milton


Byline: Martin Rubin, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Few would argue that John Milton's long poem Paradise Lost is one of the pinnacles of achievement in the centuries-long tradition of English literature. Not only is it THE English epic, worthy of comparison with its great classical predecessors, the Greek Odyssey and Iliad and the Latin Aeneid, but its subject, Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, was to resonate down through the centuries, providing the underlying theme for so many poems, plays and novels.

Its majestic opening lines : 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 are well known to students but how many, in or out of school, know the thousands of lines that come after? For there's no denying that reading Paradise Lost is a bit daunting, with its myriad classical and biblical allusions, to say nothing of its elaborate Miltonic style. And any work that takes as its stated aim to justify the ways of God to man will likely be imposing in the extreme.

Which is why The Milton Encyclopedia, packed with everything you might need to help you along the way, would be an invaluable guide to those deciding to embark upon finally reading this greatest of all English poems, the supreme epic of our language. Thomas Corns has assembled a team of Milton scholars to provide helpful entries, most quite brief, on almost every aspect imaginable of Milton's oeuvre - its author, his life, times and career, plus the traditions in which it fits.

Of course, there is a great deal more to John Milton the poet than Paradise Lost and its lesser-known, even more Christian, successor Paradise Regained. His elegy Lycidas, written for a fellow student at Cambridge who drowned, is widely considered the finest such poem in English. Milton's paired poems, L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, exploring the twin poles of happiness and melancholy were all-important in shaping English poetry in the century after his death. Those seeking enlightenment on the topic of all these works and more will of course find them in The Milton Encyclopedia.

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