John Milton is in Every Line of Paradise Lost

Also Read


      Milton was a self-centered poet, and expressed himself in all the poems he wrote, whether they were lyrical, dramatic or epic. Besides, he was a great scholar; he was deeply versed in some of the modern languages, in the classical languages and in Biblical literature. Every line that he wrote, whether in verse or prose, is redolent of his great learning. Paradise Lost was his greatest work—and also a great epic. In an epic, there is hardly any scope for a poet to reveal himself because the epic is objective in its method and style. Still Milton, the self-centered man that he was—could not help expressing himself—his character, his culture, his religious temper, his political outlook and his learning—in Paradise Lost.

      The greatest character of Paradise Lost, Satan is a projection of Milton’s own self. Satan embodies Milton’s courage, love of freedom republicanism and hatred of tyranny. Just as Milton opposed the autocracy of King Charles I and became a stem republican so Satan defied the authority of God and rebelled against Him. Again, the defeat of the republican cause with which Milton identified himself did not and could not curb his spirit, so the defeat of Satan could not damp his unconquerable spirit of defiance. It seems Milton himself speaks when Satan says,

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will
And study of revenge, immortal hate,

      The England of the Restoration was like Hell to Milton, but like Satan he can say,

The mind is its own place.....

      Thus, Satan represents Milton but only a part of Milton. Another part of Milton’s self is exhibited in Adam, who is pious, god-fearing and grave, but susceptible to feminine charm. Through Adam, Milton expresses his feeling towards women. Are not the following words of Adam a bitter cry wrung from Milton by the unforgotten miseries of his first marriage!

Oh; why did God
Creator, wise, that peopled highest Heaven
With Spirits masculine create at last
This novelty on Earth, this fair defect
On Nature, and not fill the World at once
With men as Angels, without feminine,
Or find some other way to generate
Mankind? This mischief had not then befallen,
And more that shall befall innumerable
Disturbances on Earth through female snares,
And strait conjunction with this sex.

      The scene of reconciliation between Adam and Eve is reminiscent of a similar scene between Milton and his first wife.

      Apart from these two characters, in which Milton revealed himself the general tenor of Paradise Lost proclaims the mind and personality of the poet. There is in Paradise Lost a lofty moral atmosphere, a deep sense of piety and reverence to God, which clearly reveal the moral and spiritual outlook of Milton.

      Milton was a deep classical scholar and a zealous Christian. All the apparatus of his classical scholarship is employed in this great epic. Like Homer, he invokes the muse (the Heavenly Muse) and plunges into the middle of the action of the epic. The great similes of Paradise Lost are of a Homeric character and carry in them the paraphernalia of Milton’s wide learning. The poet presses into his service his knowledge of history, geography, and classical literature, and his Biblical learning for the construction of his epic similes.

      The style of Paradise Lost bears upon it the unmistakable stamp of Milton’s hand. The blank verse of Paradise Lost is something unique in the English language. It is the verse of a great poet and great musical artist. On the one hand, it soars high into the lofty region of imagination, and on the other, it possesses a grand music, not to be met with elsewhere in English poetry. His achievements in constructing his new blank verse are unique indeed. He made his verse perfectly suited to his lofty subject matter. There is nowhere anything loose or slovenly in his verse. Milton is the greatest and the most conscientious artist in English poetry. Every word, every syllable, is weighed in the scales of his artistic judgment and carries maximum weight of meaning and music. Macaulay rightly pointed out that the words used by Milton not only had a weight of meaning as they stood but suggested something more to the mind of a scholar. The suggestiveness of Milton’s words and phrases is also indicated by Pattison, when he says that the appreciation of Milton is the last reward of consummate scholarship. The Biblical and classical allusions which abound in Paradise Lost indicate the scholarship and learning of Milton. The style of Milton, unique in itself has all the stamp of Milton’s personality. The word, ‘Miltonic’ has acquired a special significance, and is now synonymous with ‘sublime’. It is not only the theme of the poem that lifts the reader to a lofty moral plane, but its style also reaches the highest watermark of grand style in English poetry. Milton’s constant use of Latinism in his construction and phraseology is not merely a device to impart grandeur to his style, but is a necessary mode of his self-expression. Though such Latinisms are alien to the genius of English language, they are a part of Milton’s intellectual equipment, and come naturally to a man whose mind was nourished by the classics as Milton’s was.

      Thus, both in the theme of Paradise Lost and its treatment Milton’s mind and personality are unmistakably revealed. The fundamental qualities of Milton’s character are his deep sense of piety and love of virtue on the one hand, and his passion for freedom and indomitable courage on the other. And both these aspects of his character are reflected in Adam and Satan. In fact, the whole story of the Fall of Man is the story of Milton’s own soul. The temptation to which Adam succumbed is the temptation with which Milton was faced. And the stem republicanism which had led Milton to defend the execution of Charles I is also the mainspring of Satan’s character. Coleridge has truly said that John Milton is in every line of Paradise Lost.

Previous Post Next Post