A Preface to Paradise Lost

A Preface to Paradise Lost

A Preface to Paradise Lost

A Preface to Paradise Lost

Synopsis

A Preface to Paradise Lost provides an interpretation of Milton's purpose in writing the epic.

Excerpt

A perfect judge will read each work of wit With the same spirit that its author wit.

POPE.

The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is-- what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to the purpose about them. The first thing the reader needs to know about Paradise Lost is what Milton meant it to be.

This need is specially urgent in the present age because the kind of poem Milton meant to write is unfamiliar to many readers. He is writing epic poetry which is a species of narrative poetry, and neither the species nor the genus is very well understood at present. The misunderstanding of the genus (narrative poetry) I have learned from looking into used copies of our great narrative poems. In them you find often enough a number of not very remarkable lines underscored with pencil in the first two pages, and all the rest of the book virgin. It is easy to see what has happened. The unfortunate reader has set out expecting 'good lines'--little ebullient patches of delight-- such as he is accustomed to find in lyrics, and has thought he was finding them in things that took his fancy for accidental reasons during the first five minutes; after that, finding that the . . .

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