Characteristics of John Milton as A Poet

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      The supreme quality of Milton’s poetry is its sublimity. His poetry is the expression of a pure and noble mind, enriched by knowledge and disciplined by art. Milton lived a life of purity and austerity, and his poetry bears the unmistakable stamp of the nobility of his character. Whatever he has written has a dignity and stateliness of its own. His poetry has an elevating influence on the mind of the reader, and this influence is exercised not only by its lofty thought, but also by the grandeur of its style.

Love of Beauty

      Milton was possessed of a keen sense of beauty. He loved beauty in all its forms. He was deeply sensitive to the beauties of external nature; the two poems L' Allegro, II Penseroso testify to his love of nature. He was a lover of art and music. “Nowhere is Milton’s love beauty better displayed than in the early poems, L ’ Allegro, II Penseroso, Cornua and Lycidas. They have all the freshness and charm of youth, and exhibit the lighter and more fanciful side of Milton’s, genius.


      There was besides this love of beauty, a deep strain of puritanism in Milton’s, poetry. In his early poems, there is a harmonious combination of two strains, but in the later poems, the puritan voice assumes a strident note. In fact, Milton becomes a stern puritan during the later period of his life, and his religious zeal almost kills his humanism.


      Closely in wrought with his puritanism, there is in Milton’s nature a strong bent for classicism, which is pagan and sensuous. He was a keen student of the ancient classics, and drank deep at the springs of the classical learning. He wrote Latin prose as freely as he wrote English. He chose classical forms of poetry to express himself—epic (Paradise Lost), the Greek tragedy (Samson Agonisters) the pastoral elegy (Lycidas) and the ode (Ode on the Nativity of Christ). His style was built, consciously or unconsciously, on the classical models. His fondness for classical allusion, the dignity of his style, the elaborate descriptions and similes in Paradise Lost—all show the classical elements in his poetry.

Lofty Sense of the Vocation of a Poet

      From his early youth, Milton had a consciousness of his destiny; he had a conviction that he was destined to be a great poet, and to this end he devoted all his energies and thoughts. His was almost a dedicated life, and he made the most strenuous preparation to fulfill his destiny. He lived a pure life, and also lived laborious days, for, according to Milton, the vocation of a poet was lofty and exalted, and the life of a poet must be pure and noble. Poetry to Milton was not a mere intellectual exercise and diversion; it was something solemn and sacred. Poetry comes only from divine inspiration, which is possible, Milton says, only through earnest prayer to God, “who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.” This was Milton’s idea of poetry, and he pursued this ideal all through his life.

A Great Poetic Artist

      Milton was a conscientious artist. Whatever he has written is remarkable for its artistic workmanship. Just as he can create a great epic, so he can tum out a perfect sonnet. His descriptive lyrics, L’ Allegro and II Penseroso are unequalled in English poetry, just as his Lyciclas surpass all elegies. The one ode that he has written - Ode on the Nativity of Christ—is unique in its kind, though it was written when he was fresh from college. And his Paradise Lost still remains the highest poetic triumph of the English race. Milton, puritan as he was, always a supreme artist. “Poetry has been by fhr our greatest artistic achievement, and he is by far the greatest poetic artist......To live with Milton is necessarily to learn that the art of poetry is no triviality, no mere amusement, but a high and grave thing, a thing of the choicest discipline of phrase, the first craftsmanship of structure, the most nobly ordered music of sound.” (Bailey)

Milton’s Style, its Weight of Substance and its Music

      The poetic style of Milton has hardly any equal in English poetry in respect of its music, its dignity, its gravity and weight. His style, says Raleigh, is not a loose-flowing garment, but is tightly fitted to the thought. “He packs his meaning in the fewest possible words”, says Raleigh, and we may add, in the most musical language. Milton’s verse-music is most artistically adapted to the emotion and mood of the moment. In L’ Allegro the lines seem to be borne along by the very spirit of joy; and the joyous notes give way to solemn harmony, say, in the sonnet On the Late Massacre in Piedmont. And the grand organ music of Paradise Lost is unique, and is never heard again in English poetry. Tennyson calls Milton “the mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies—God-gifted organ-voice of England.”

The Grand Style of Milton

      Milton’s style has been called ‘grand style’, because it has always an unmistakable stamp of majesty in it. It has not only ‘the voice of the sea’ as Wordsworth says, but it has an elevating effect on the reader. The subject of Milton’s poetry is always lofty; even when he speaks of common things, he lifts them to lofty heights. Coleridge defines poetic style as ‘the best words in the best order.’ Milton’s style, more than that of any other poet, fully justifies this definition. Matthew Arnold says, “In the sure and flawless perfection of his rhythm and diction, he is as admirable as Virgil or Dante, and in this respect he is unique amongst us. None else in English literature possesses the like distinction.”

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