Milton's Diction in Paradise Lost Book 2

Also Read

      Milton is a master of the art of verbal melody. He selects his words and phrases very carefully. There is scarcely a single idle word in Paradise Lost. Every word serves its own special purpose and so deftly laid is the architecture of his poetry that you cannot replace one by another without doing substantial damage to the beauty, harmony and strength of the entire edifice. The grandeur of his thought naturally clothes itself in the grandeur of his diction. His words and phrases are not the simple ones of rustics as Wordsworth would advocate, but well-chiseled, well-chosen learned expressions that can be fit vehicle of the high and serious thoughts in his sublime epic. For greater effect and emphasis he sometimes alters the natural order of words e.g.

"In order came the infernal peers" II. 506-507
"Back to thy punishment
False fugitive", II. 699-700

"Down they fall,
Driven headlong from the pitch of Heaven", II. 771-772

      He often packs his meaning in the fewest possible words and studies admirable economy at every trifle. Note the following pregnant and forceful lines

"So frowned the mighty combatants, that Hell
Grew darker at their frown" II. 719-720.

"Hell trembled as he strode" II. 676.

      Milton is a consummate artist in the choice of words. Sometimes he selects his words with such care and skill that they wonderfully echo the sense; e.g.

"Far less abhorred than these
Vexed Scylla, bathing in the sea that parts
Calabria from the hoarse Trinacrian shore" II. 659-661.

"Then in the key-hole turns
The intricate wards, and every bolt and bar
Of massy iron or solid rock with ease
Unfastens: on a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound, II. 878-882.

      The wonderful effects that he often produces by the use of monosyllabic words with a pause at the end of each is to be especially noticed in Book II. Carefully note the significant march of monosyllables in the following lines:

"Through many a dark and dreary Vale.
They passed, and many a region dolorous,
O’er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp,
Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of Death." II. 618-621.

"So eagerly the fiend
O'er bog or steep, through straight, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues his way
And sxyims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies." II. 947-950.

"a dark
Illimitable ocean, without bound,
Without dimension; where length, breadth, and height,
And time, and place, are lost;" II. 891-894.

      Note how by a wise selection of words and by their skillful arrangement he conjures up a vivid and forceful picture:

"A universe of death, which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good,
Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds,
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable unutterable, and worse
Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras dire". II. 622-628

Previous Post Next Post