John Milton (1608–1674) is one of the major figures of English literature. He is best known for his masterpiece the great epic Paradise Lost (1667). His great poem is written in blank verse, and is reminiscent of the epics of Homer and Virgil. Milton, however, was a Puritan and was greatly influenced by scripture and by the reformation.
Paradise Lost outlines its subject in the opening lines:
-----Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
-----Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
-----Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
-----With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
-----Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
-----Sing Heav’nly Muse...
By line 25 he explains that the purpose of his argument is to “assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.” The story is told in twelve books, which are hundreds of lines each. It would be hard to overstate the influence of this poem on theology and English literature. Many poets have been greatly influenced by Milton, including William Blake and John Keats.
In 1651 he became blind, and was only able to write his masterpiece with the aid of others, such as the poet Andrew Marvell. It has been said that Milton’s blindness contributed to his strong verbal richness.
On His Blindness
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca