Welcome to Milton in May!
I hope you are as excited about this month’s reading project as I am.
I, personally, will be reading Paradise Lost, at a rate of about three books a week. In addition, I hope to revisit some other poems, I may read some essays, and I might read a biography of the man himself. When I was in college, I studied Milton for a semester. I read criticism. I discussed his works in depth. I am no longer in school, and my intentions this month as I revisit Milton are not college-level: I plan on reading and exploring some of his works, including Paradise Lost, for the pure pleasure of it!
You are welcome to join in by reading and/or writing about anything Miltonian this month. Each week, I’ll have a linky on this site, and you can link to any posts you write about Milton. I will also post some general discussion questions about the three books from Paradise Lost for the week. I hope this month can be an open discussion and a celebration of one of the world’s great writers. You can make your own participation be at whatever level you’d prefer, whether that is academic or not. You can write “review” posts or you can write discussion posts. If you don’t want to write your own blog posts at all, feel free to comment on your reading in the comments on this site.
After the jump, see discussion questions and then my own first impressions of this reread.
Paradise Lost Books 1-3 Discussion Questions
If you are joining in for the read-along and aren’t quite sure how to organize your thoughts, here are some questions to get you started. Of course, you need not answer these if you prefer not to.
- Have you read Paradise Lost before? If so, what are your impressions on the reread? If you haven’t, what are your first impressions?
- Epic proportions: Have you read other epics (like Homer or Virgil)? How does this compare so far?
- What do we learn about Milton from his first-person comments on the story he’s telling? Do you like his asides?
- The characters: Satan is the main character for most of the first three books. What do we learn about him? Is he appealing as the main character? Is he heroic? What do you think of Milton’s portrayal of the other devils in hell?
- The setting(s): So far, we see a lot of hell, and not as much heaven. What is your impression of Milton’s portrayal of the two locales?
- Will you continue reading?
References for the study questions (i.e., where you can go for more background and ideas): I did consult Cliffs’ Notes, which was not really any help, and SparkNotes online, which gave me some ideas. My edition of Paradise Lost is the Norton Critical Edition, so I may have gotten ideas from the footnotes and/or articles I skimmed. I also like this professor’s page of essay questions, although most of them relate to the entire book. Also, paradiselost.org has the full annotated text, lots of commentary, illustrations, and well, just about anything you’d like Miltonian.
My Thoughts: Paradise Lost, Books 1-3
I love it so much after the first 85 pages of this reread that Paradise Lost has just replaced The Iliad as a favorite on my lists. Just as The Iliad (which I read in the Fagles’ translation) has majesty and beautiful language, Paradise Lost is sweeping me away into a world of epic proportions. Milton’s language is just perfect for me, and unlike The Iliad I won’t feel compelled to go and compare translations: this is the original! I feel like it was written to demonstrate the power of the English language. I’ve always felt that English was rather ugly (sorry) compared to, say, Spanish (which I studied in school). But this poem demonstrates it’s beauty.
Also, I love the religious aspect. It kind of puts Homer into perspective. The original audience of Homer understood all the “religious” references in it. It was about their own gods. It wasn’t “foreign” as it felt to me when I read it. Paradise Lost, while it does base a lot of commentary on Greek and Roman and other “pagan” traditions, it’s main focus is Judeo-Christian. That I can relate to on an incredibly personal level, and I love it. I recognize the Biblical stories as they are mentioned and I can almost locate the scriptures when Milton quotes them. (I love having extensive footnotes to refer to when I am curious to know where the scripture is to be found!)
As for John Milton’s writing, wow. I always had him in my head as a great writer like Shakespeare. But from the first page of this reread, I was struck by how opposite to Shakespeare John Milton actually is. I love reading Shakespeare, really I do. The plays I’ve read (which hasn’t been many, I’m afraid) have been impressively well written, and a perfect mingling of emotions and/or humor. Yet, Shakespeare wrote to a common audience. He was a self-educated, country man writing for the masses. It’s great: Shakespeare, amazingly, created English as we know it by his use of such an extensive new vocabulary.
Milton, on the other hand, wrote for those who had a college education. He was born to a moderately wealthy London family, educated in the classics at college, and wrote as one with a degree of educational snootiness. I mean that in the nicest way. I love both writers. Milton’s is impressive in a way that Shakespeare is not! As I read, I was reminded time and again that Milton was blind as wrote this whole thing. How one could write without a computer for editing is one thing, but to write perfect iambic pentameter blank verse without being able to even read what has been written simply takes impressive to a new level.
The subject matter makes this all the more interesting to me: it’s not just the writing or the epic style that I am loving thus far: it’s the religious perspective. As this isn’t a religious blog, I’ll refrain from going in to all the quotes I love, although I will say I love God’s comment on his creation of humans:
. . . I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall. (Book III. 98-99)
I love how this is all about free will: and for me, that is what Christianity is about. Satan is so incredibly interesting; I had forgotten just how enticing his character is in this poem. So he still is today. Some things really never change.
I haven’t written a lot about the context of the poem itself, but I certainly look forward to reading more. Next week I’ll try to focus on writing about the context of the poem itself and my impressions, rather than gushing so much about the epic itself.
Have I convinced you to join in the read-along this month?