Book Rec: Paradise Lost by John Milton

To lighten the mood, how about a little joke? Why did the student leer? Because the professor decided, without telling a soul, that he would not accept the ten page King Lear paper until the day of the final after reminding everyone in an e-mail this morning that the papers were due today. Jackass. Book Rec: Paradise Lost by John Milton Let me get these few issues out of the way first. Yes, from a modern perspective, this is sexist. It also happens to be racist and contain many digs against Catholicism. Milton doesn't even get all his facts straight about the Bible in his interpretation of Genesis. And yes, I know that this is technically an epic poem, but it's over 200 pages in a Norton anthology, and most editions aren't published on tissue paper in size ten font. Happy now? You don't read Paradise Lost for an accurate representation of anything. I'd argue its questionable to read it even to gain an understanding of one man's interpretation of the Bible, let alone a Protestant viewpoint on the Restoration and disorder in England. You read paradise lost for some of the most beautiful blank verse poetry ever composed in the English language. Throughout the twelve books, Milton subverts the epic poem. Technically, it's a secondary epic (I find that an appropriate term, since the primary epics are the works that created the epic poems, you know: The Odyssey, The Illiad, even Beowulf, and 1650's ain't exactly ancient Greece). Meaning, to a certain extent, it will change the form of the epic. A secondary epic was initially written, where a primary epic was based in oral tradition. So there are inherent differences. Milton goes beyond that. It's not uncommon for the actual hero to appear later in the poem. But in a twelve book epic, Adam and Eve don't appear until Book 9. We follow Satan and his minions until that point. While we are meant to view him as the antagonist, the majority of the poem is dedicated to his scheme to destroy God's new creation. So the character we are meant to hate is the character we wind up knowing the most about. Another aspect: Adam and Eve, in Judeo-Christian belief, obviously impacted an entire society by biting the apple. It got man kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But, Adam and Eve are the only humans to appear in the poem. The tradition is for one hero's actions to be reflected by their society; a triumph in a war means a growth in society, etc. But Adam and Eve's fall from grace, in Paradise Lost, only directly impacts Adam and Eve. They are true epic heros with nothing to reflect because they are society. Now add on how Milton was the first to tackle an epic poem based in the Bible. Don't forget that his focus is Satan, the furthest removed of all of God's creations. Throw in the last minute appearance of Adam and Eve, told mostly through Satan. And finally, tack on that happy ending where Jesus shows up to tell Adam and Eve their mistake is really a blessing because God will eventually send him to redeem humanity of their error. And then there's the actual composition. Gorgeous blank verse with beautiful imagery and interesting progression of thought. Milton borrowed heavily from the form of the Bible without necessarily fully ingesting the content. Are you going to go screaming to the nearest bookstore and buy yourself Paradise Lost by John Milton? Probably not. Is it a poem that should be read outside of a college classroom? I believe so. It seems to have that reputation of "You have to read this," but for good reason. The writing is esquisite.

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