Of Man's First Disobedience
February 1, 2008 3:34 AM   Subscribe

John Milton was born 400 years ago this year, and several excellent websites have been created to mark the anniversary. Two online exhibitions, Citizen Milton and Living At This Hour, celebrate Milton's achievement with a display of early editions and later artistic interpretations, while Darkness Visible offers an accessible introduction to Paradise Lost for readers encountering the poem for the first time, including an interesting discussion of Milton's influence on Philip Pullman (who responds here with his own tribute to Paradise Lost, 'the greatest poem by England's greatest public poet').
posted by verstegan (28 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's amazing is that Milton's work still resonates so well today. I saw the play version of paradise lost a few years ago and the reaction was incredible.
posted by inghamb87 at 3:44 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nay, though what I have spoke should happen... ...to be the last words of our expiring liberty. But I trust I shall have spoken persuasion to abundance of sensible and ingenuous men; to some perhaps, whom God may raise to these stones to become children of reviving liberty.
posted by Abiezer at 3:57 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Paradise Lost was self published, perhaps in today's world it would have been posted to his blog.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:15 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I read Paradise Lost in a day before an English exam. There's some quite good bits (like when the bad angels go mining and create terrible machines of war and then start aiming them at the good angels who are understandably freaked but rally and pick up frackkin' mountains for the purpose of dropping them on the bad angels and their infernal machinery) but, to be honest, I think some of those events might not have actually happened. And the sequel was arse.
posted by Sparx at 5:22 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


And it was when his personal and political fortunes were at their lowest ebb – when he was blind, and poor, out of official favour, a widower with three dependent daughters – that he began the work for which he is most remembered today, and set about to pursue ‘Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme’, and ‘justify the ways of God to men.’

He was in his fifties, and had published many poems already, some of which (Lycidas, L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus) are among the loveliest of all English verse. He would be remembered still as a poet if he had been executed under the Restoration, and had never begun Paradise Lost. But in that great poem he found a theme and a metre that matched every fibre of his genius. From the magnificent opening showing the defeated rebel angels chained on the burning lake, through their plan to travel to the newly-created earth and seduce the ‘new race called Man’, to the superb psychological drama of Satan’s temptation of Eve and its consequences, to the sad but resolute music of the closing lines, Paradise Lost is unmatched.


Cool post, thanks. I've been meaning to read it for a long time and you've helped move it to the top of the list.
posted by mediareport at 5:47 AM on February 1, 2008


We should also spare a kind word or two for his Areopagitica, which is one of the earliest (if flawed) defenses of freedom of speech.
posted by Rangeboy at 6:14 AM on February 1, 2008


Paradise Lost was self published, perhaps in today's world it would have been posted to his blog.
On Feb 1, 9:37 AM, JesusSaves wrote:
You hate-filled Athiest liberals may think Satan (the Author of LIES) is cool now, but you won't think so when you're burning in the lake of FIRE!!! Jesus DIED for your sins, you should read about it some time!

On Feb 1, 1:03 PM, Comixdude wrote:
Dude, you totally ripped this off from Hellboy. NOT cool.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:16 AM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Paradise Lost was self published

I don't think that's accurate. From what I've been able to find, Milton signed a contract with printer Samuel Simmons that paid him five pounds up front, five more upon the first printing of 1300 copies selling out, and five more each if the second and third printings sold out. The receipt for the second payment is in the Cambridge exhibition.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:35 AM on February 1, 2008


"Now, what can we say of John Milton's Paradise Lost? It's a long poem, written a long time ago, and I'm sure a lot of you have difficulty understanding exactly what Milton was trying to say. Certainly we know that he was trying to describe the struggle between good and evil, right? Okay. The most intriguing character, as we all know from our reading, was...Satan. Now, was Milton trying to tell us that being bad was more fun than being good?

OK, don't write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He's a little bit long-winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible. But that doesn't relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I'm waiting for reports from some of you... Listen, I'm not joking. This is my job!"
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 AM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sort of a self-link, but not really: Every year, one of my professors organizes a Milton Marathon. There was an archived video of the reading, but I can't seem to find it.
posted by papakwanz at 7:07 AM on February 1, 2008


Some of the best seminars I ever had were on this poem.

Adam, from whose dear side I boast me sprung, and gladly of our union hear thee speak, one heart, one soul in both; whereof good proof this day affords, declaring thee resolv'd, rather than death, or aught than death more dread, shall separate us, linkt in love so dear, to undergo with me one guilt, one crime, if any be, of tasting this fruit, whose virtue, for of good still good proceeds, direct, or by occasion hath presented this happy trial of thy love, which else so eminently never had been known.

Adam was not deceived, he chose to defy God to remain whole with Eve. wow
I could talk about paradise lost for weeks...
posted by MNDZ at 7:13 AM on February 1, 2008


mr_crash_davis, the professor who taught my Milton seminar in college used to quote that speech at least once a week.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:34 AM on February 1, 2008


Don't write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He's a little bit long-winded, he doesn't translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.
[Bell rings, students rise to leave]
But that doesn't relieve you of your responsibility for this material. Now I'm waiting for reports from some of you... Listen, I'm not joking. This is my job!
posted by psmealey at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2008


mr_crash_davis/PlusDistance

That Milton speech is very funny - where is it from, please?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:53 AM on February 1, 2008


Animal House.
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on February 1, 2008


"They also serve who only stand and wait."

C'mon, if that isn't a perfect little line of poetry, then your . . . um . . . metrometer needs to be realigned.

Okay, true story: A couple of years ago, my son was playing third base and was understandably peeved that nothing was coming his way. It was hot day, he was thirsty and tired and frustrated, and he started whining that there was nothing happening on his base. I shouted the above line from Milton at him, and he paused, glared at me, and whined three times.

What was he whining about? Here's some speculation: First whine: Jesus, my dad's a dork. Who quotes Milton at a little league game? Second whine: Jesus, he's right. I'm part of a team. I gotta sit here and wait. That's my job. Third whine: Waitasecond, if dad's a dork, and mom's definitely a dork, then genetically *I* stand a pretty damn good chance of being a dork, too.

True story.
posted by John of Michigan at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


The writers of Animal House were (as usual) only paraphrasing Samuel Johnson, who wrote: "The want of human interest is always felt. Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for companions."
posted by Faze at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2008


Great post, verstegan, but I think I will save much of the link perusal for Sunday. On this weary, gray Friday, I ascribe to the A.E. Houseman school of thought:

...malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.

posted by madamjujujive at 8:46 AM on February 1, 2008



Oh, let's not forget the guy was blind.

I bet that hindered him from the right-click eloquence so many of our contemporaries rely upon these days.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2008




That droll Milton speech is from Animal House?

Bloody hell - that's even funnier.

(Yes, I realize Animal House is like Dumb & Dumber - incontestably brilliant to those who know it well. Even so - Jesus Wep't! Or 'tears such as angels wep't burst forth at last' etc etc! I never would have guessed. Thanks.).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:56 AM on February 1, 2008


I reread it. I'm a dork, yes.
posted by MNDZ at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2008


With all due respect to Dr. Johnson, I've read Paradise Lost several times, and have never retired harassed or overburdened (though sometimes reading Samuel Johnson makes me feel harassed and overburdened).

Eve's description of her dream/seduction by Satan in early Book Five is one of my favorite passages in English Literature. We used to joke that Milton's daughters, to whom he dictated, spiced that part up a little bit.
posted by thivaia at 9:03 AM on February 1, 2008


What's amazing is that Milton's work still resonates so well today.

Not sure it resonates much beyond the required English credit. The Animal House quote leaps immediately to my mind as well. Milton was some dull stuff.

"...Can I buy some pot from you?"
posted by tkchrist at 9:21 AM on February 1, 2008


Jody Tresidder writes "That droll Milton speech is from Animal House?"

Back when National Lampoon had excellent writers.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:53 AM on February 1, 2008


Mrs Milton as per Mr Graves. Worth a look.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2008


Milton dull? Heresy!
Heresy was a lot of what he was writing (despite later attempts to reclaim him by orthodoxy) and he mixed with the whole free-thinking and radical underground that burst forth during the Interregnum. We have his reflections on the experience of the English revolution, its failure and aftermath, yet his steadfastness in defeat. The first defender of regicide; an early proponent of divorce; such a moving poet of love:
Her face was veil'd; yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shin'd
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
But O, as to embrace me she inclin'd,
I wak'd; she fled; and day brought back my night.
As like knows like, William Blake knew genius when he read it:
Muses who inspire the Poet's Song,
Record the journey of immortal Milton thro' your realms
Of terror and mild moony lustre
These links are excellent, verstegan; particularly enjoying the 'Citizen Milton' and 'Living at This Hour' presentations; looking forward to stepping into the Darkness Visible too.
posted by Abiezer at 4:05 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not sure it resonates much beyond the required English credit.

That required english credit was, ummm, 18 years ago. Sure, I can deliver a better speech about Mary Shelly, but still, GOOD ANGELS DROPPING FRACKING MOUNTAINS ON SATAN'S WAR MACHINE BEARING DESCIPLES. What's not to love?
posted by Sparx at 5:46 PM on February 1, 2008


Thanks, Abiezer; I'd noticed your previous comment on Paradise Lost and hoped you might be dropping in to this thread.
posted by verstegan at 12:37 AM on February 4, 2008


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