Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Milton's 'Paradise Lost'

Excerpt

Since the first war Milton has indeed 'fall'n on evil days, and evil tongues' in his own country. Young men and women go up to the universities to read Honours English without having read a line of him, for their teachers have told them that they need not bother with a poet of exploded reputation. Paradise Lost accordingly is not nowadays widely read or highly regarded. This situation has of course been brought about in special circumstances and by certain leading figures in the literary scene of our time; but the revulsion from Paradise Lost could not have happened without certain weaknesses and false trends in the previous, traditional appraisal of the poem, and it is these that must be seen and corrected if the balance is to be restored. First among these critical errors is that Milton the poet is not distinguished from Milton the man, and Milton the man is not distinguished from the ogre originally created by his religious and political enemies, and revived by Dr. Johnson a century later. I try to remove this stumbling block in my first chapter. I then deal with those aspects of the poem itself that to my mind have been misunderstood and misconstrued. First it is thought and said that Paradise Lost is 'a monument to dead ideas', yet they are ideas that had dominated Europe for over a thousand years and were still very much alive in the seventeenth century; and for the sensitive reader they still live in the action of the poem. One of my purposes is to show how the ideas are embodied in and borne out by the story, and I set them forth in chapter 2 solely with a view to this. Next it is thought that . . .

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