Monday, September 12, 2011

John Milton*

One of the things I set for myself to accomplish this summer was to read Paradise Lost. I am very pleased that I did. Although there are a few plodding moments — exacerbated by my limited experience of classic literature — overall I found it a very satisfying experience. Milton took the form of epic poetry, as employed by Homer, and refined by Virgil, and presented a story of greatest importance and of immense scope.

Milton’s insights into his characters — as he expands them from what scripture tells us — are masterful. His realistic suggestions as to why Eve may have been tempted to eat the fruit, and why Adam followed, give us a lot to meditate on. In a poem so encompassing, it is amazing how rarely I want to debate his theology.

I often find delight in his descriptive passages. In the following, Uriel, one of Milton's archangels, tells what he witnessed of creation. Since Paradise Lost is written in blank verse, this passage could stand alone as a kind of rhymeless sonnet. The book was published in 1667.

from Paradise Lost (III, 708-721)

I saw when at his word the formless mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard his voice, and wild uproar
Stood ruled, stood vast infinitude confined;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shone, and order from disorder sprung:
Swift to their several quarters hasted then
The cumbrous elements, earth, flood, air, fire,
And this ethereal quintessence of heav'n
Flew upward, spirited with various forms,
That rolled orbicular, and turned to stars
Numberless, as thou seest, and how they move;
Each had his place appointed, each his course,
The rest in circuit walls this universe.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Milton: first post and third post

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: