The introduction to Paradise Lost consists of a single sentence of 122 words (spread across 16 lines). This is a protracted expression. One rarely read a complete Milton sentence when evidence is requested during classroom discussions of the poem. They will, with any luck, encounter a semicolon and read to or from it. Why? This is partially due to the fact that his sentences are frequently extensive and complex, i.e., they contain more words than ours. Milton composed Paradise Lost in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter lines. This appears more difficult than it really is. A pentameter line has five feet. Remember that Milton composed poetry in Latin and English, so he understood the relationship between tension and duration. You will undergo a metamorphosis as you read passages from Paradise Lost aloud.
Upon embarking on the voyage of reading Milton's "Paradise Lost," observe the obstacles, overcome them, and enter one of the poetic spaces in English literature. Even if you disagree with Milton about whether that space is one of damnation or salvation,one will recognize that it is a space for challenging one's limits.
Milton was exceedingly erudite, and he frequently makes subtle references to literature that he assumes his reader has also read, especially Greek and Latin classics. These are referred to as allusions. This precis introduction contains one especially significant biblical reference as well as two references to the Greek and Latin epic traditions.
Milton does not reveal to the reader that the shepherd is Moses, the reputed author of the Pentateuch, which includes Genesis, which describes the creation of the heavens and earth, when he requests inspiration from the same source that inspired "That Shepherd, Who First Taught the Chosen Seed, In the Beginning, How the Heavens Rose from Chaos." Biblical scholars no longer hold this view, but Milton unquestionably did, and he assumed that his audience was aware of it. Next, he will discuss the standards. When Milton asks the Holy Spirit, who inspired Moses, for inspiration, he says, "Sing, Heavenly Muse." The Muse is a pagan deity, not a Judeo-Christian one, and the ancient epic poets, particularly Homer and then Virgil, invoked or pleaded for her assistance because the epic task was beyond the scope of merely human effort. The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid all commence with an invocation of the Muse. (There were countless Muses.) Milton assumes that his readers will remember Genesis and the ancient epics when he makes reference to them.
Modern editions of Paradise Lost contain footnotes that explain the origins of many of Milton's allusions; however, as explained in Samuel Johnson's book, footnotes are "a necessary evil" because they "refrigerate the mind." The process of "figuring out" allusions, thereby relating a poem to earlier poems in the tradition conveyed by allusions—we are made by what we allude to—is, however, one of the greatest joys of reading more and more literature. The mental texture becomes increasingly interconnected, dense, and subtle. As a person's literacy improves, the pleasurable process of reading literature — so many volumes, so little time — equips them to read more of it and to do so with greater skill.
The five aforementioned characteristics of Milton's style—his diction, syntax, prosody, figuration, and allusiveness—make him difficult, but they also make him enjoyable, or more precisely, they make him enjoyable in part because of his difficulty. We live in an age of information (and misinformation) and expect things to be communicated to us in a straightforward, simple, and uncomplicated manner. And this method should be utilized frequently. one can object to confusing voting instructions. Even if they are legitimate, the demands of bureaucratic prose in the modern company and state frequently create mental habits that limit our access to vast and enticing imaginative and cognitive territory, which requires... heroic mental habits. Please embark on the journey of reading Paradise Lost by Milton, take note of the obstacles, overcome them, and you will enter one of the most expansive poetic spaces in the English literary tradition. Even if you disagree with Milton that that space is one of damnation or salvation, many will recognize it as a space for challenging our limits. Never before has gaining been so delightful! Enjoy the epic poem.
Life of Milton by Samuel Johnson
C.S. Lewis’ A Preface to Paradise Lost
Notes by Scott Crider
Michael Cavanagh’s Paradise Lost: A Primer, ed. by Scott Newstock (Washington, D.C)
Maggie Kilgour’s Milton’s Poetical Style (New York and Oxford)
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