Milton, Paradise Lost


Milton's Iliad is a re-interpretation of Genesis. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden, and Milton's command of the English language has no rival. Not even Shakespeare could match his level of richness.

They have lustless sex. Satan temps her with the tree of knowledge, and then they have lustful sex, which is sinful.

This book was challenging for me. I didn't find it all that pleasurable. It was hard to penetrate the text because it was so wordy. I admire Milton deeply for his command of the English language. I certainly feel that he is the master of the English language, maybe over Shakespeare, but I don't think I have the stomach yet to love this book. This book made me wish someone could explain one stanza of one chapter to me very slowly so I could absorb it. Much less approachable than even Dante, which was loaded with reference.

Was Milton a misogynist? His depiction of Eve was certainly not a feminist retelling of the poem. He married a teenager that wanted nothing to do with him. Woolf said that Milton was a bogey not only blocking the sky but the world. Mostly, I feel awful for Milton; I can't imagine he was well-liked in his life.

Look no further than Virginia Woolf for the greatest takedown of Milton:

“The substance of Milton is all made of wonderful, beautiful, & masterly descriptions of angels bodies, battles, flights, dwelling places. He deals in horror & immensity & squalor & sublimity, but never in the passions of the human heart. Has any great poem ever let in so little light upon ones own joys and sorrows? I get no help in judging life; I scarcely feel that Milton lived or knew men and women; except for the peevish personalities about marriage & the woman’s duties. He was the first of the masculinists; but his disparagement rises from his own ill luck, & seems even a spiteful last word in his domestic quarrels. But how smooth, strong & elaborate it all is! What poetry! I can conceive that even Shakespeare after this would seem a little troubled, personal, hot & imperfect. I can conceive that this is the essence, of which almost all other poetry is the dilution. The inexpressible fineness of the style, in which shade after shade is perceptible, would alone keep one gazing in to, long after the surface business in progress has been despatched. Deep down one catches still further combinations, rejections, felicities, & masteries. Moreover, though there is nothing like Lady Macbeth’s terror or Hamlet’s cry, no pity or sympathy or intuition, the figures are majestic; in them is summed up much of what men thought of our place in the universe, of our duty to God, our religion. “