John Milton wrote ten thousand lines of perfect iambic pentameter blank verse—while blind—blending Greco-Roman and Hebraic literature with the biblical story in an authentically compelling narrative that people still admire half a millennium later. He’s certainly one of the great poets of history. But he has such a daunting reputation for solemnity that few people read him for pleasure. That’s unfortunate, because it deprives potential readers of experience with his brilliant writing. And it’s unjust to Milton, who, though occasionally dry, also wrote poems full of sensuous beauty, naughty puns, and earnest romantic love.
In fact, his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, is in some ways a touching love story in which Adam chooses to eat the forbidden fruit and be cursed by God, not out of sinful defiance, but because he prefers to live that way with Eve rather than to live forever without her. “I with thee have fixed my lot,” he tells her, before taking the fatal bite.
Consort with thee, Death is to me as Life;
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose my self.1 . . .
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1. John Milton, The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, edited by William Kerrigan, et al., (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 545
2. Milton, Complete Poetry and Essential Prose, 871.
3. John Milton, “The Second Defence of the People of England against an Anonymous Libel,” Constitution Society, http://www.constitution.org/milton/second_defence.htm (accessed July 10, 2019).
4. A. M. Juster, John Milton’s The Book of Elegies (New York: Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study, 2018), iii.
5. Juster, Book of Elegies, 65-67.
6. Juster, Book of Elegies, 69.
7. Milton, Complete Poetry and Essential Prose, 628.
8. Juster, Book of Elegies, iii.