Paradise Lost Book 9: Line 25-47 - Summary

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      Milton states in this passage, what time he took to decide upon the Fall of Man as the subject of his contemplated epic, and why he chose it in preference to the themes of war.

      The possibilities of the Bible story of the Fall of Man from Paradise had appealed to Milton, as fit subject for a classical model as early as 1640. But for nearly 18 years he was busy with political and religious controversy in support of the cause of liberty in England. It was only in 1658 when he was fifty and blind that he could start composing the great poem of his fancy and he took five years to complete it. All this time, he says “long choosing and beginning late,” and despite his limitations of body and mind, it was the Divine Muse that had kept the light of his idea aflame in his mind so that he had no doubt of her further helping him to go on with his good work and to complete it.

      He feels that no other subject would have endured in his mind so long for, by nature, he is inclined to the contemplation of what is sacred, and not to the study of earthly wars however glorious they might be. He realizes nevertheless, that other epic poets before him like Homer, Virgil, Ariosto and Spenser—all great epic poets—have deliberately chosen wars as the theme of poetic celebration. The ancient poets have presented the heroic exploits, destructive battles, sports, races, games, duels, tournaments and feasts of knights and marshals in medieval halls and castles. They have described their antique weapons, their carved shields, heraldic devices, decorated and saddled horses; their fabulous utensils and crockery but these are according to Milton's low achievements which cannot give real glory and honor to an epic poet. Therefore, he has chosen a sacred subject, namely God’s treatment of erring man. This subject will not only confer true honor on the poet but also enhance the reputation of epic poetry itself. Although he is neither well-trained nor studious enough to take up such a great theme, his muse will continue to help him as she has hitherto so graciously helped him by her whispering to his soul every night.

      Milton enumerates the three difficulties which the Muse will help him overcome. The age - i.e. it is too late in the world’s history for the epic-form to flourish; the climate - England, far too north and cold and foggy is apt to make a man sluggish unlike the calm, clear Mediterranean region which made Homer and Virgil sing; his own declining years-he was already over fifty and blind. However, it has to be remembered that when speaking in the first person here, Milton is referring not so much to himself as the typical Renaissance poet discussing an epic subject. English climate did not, actually hinder Milton’s poetry who wrote best in winter. But he was referring only to the accepted theory of climatic influence.

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