Milton Forum

So, my best intentions for a highly-structured discussion space around your encounters with Milton have been foiled (a combo of death-by-committee and the decision to move house, and previous commitments to be at Urbana University over spring break).

All the same, I’d like for us to get a bit of an informal conversation flowing before we finally come back together for our first conversation around Blake’s Milton: A Poem next week. Here’s a few thoughts / observations to throw out there and jump-start the blogging:

  • I’m interested in inverting the usual questions of influence, and disrupting the linear flow that presupposes a Bloomian “anxiety of influence.” Instead of thinking about the ways in which Milton touches Blake (“I saw Milton in the Zenith as a falling star / Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift / And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, entered there”), what struck you as Blakean about Paradise Lost?
  • What spaces / gaps / problems open up when you examine Blake’s illustrations to Milton, and think about the text of PL? If the imagery is moving beyond the denotative and desciptive, what, then, is it doing? I have been enjoying looking at the two versions of “Raphael Warns Adam and Eve” (the 1807 Thomas set, and the more well-known 1808 Butts set version) on the Blake archive, which is connected/related to a number of moments when Raphael is discoursing to Adam in PL Books 5-7. If you pay close attention to the iconography in the Butts version — pictured above — Raphael is gesturing to what seems to be the Tree of Life, on one hand, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (with a delightful little serpent you can see, when you zoom in on the details), on the other. However, this specific sequence of events–Raphael invoking a warning against the infamous tree–does not occur in PL (nor does it, we should note, in the account in Genesis — the warning about forbidden fruit comes from the Lord God). In Milton’s PL, the tree of knowledge comes earlier, in book IV. Raphael does warn about lots of other matters, including what seems to be a gesture towards speculating on extraterrestrial life in the solar system (“Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there / Live, in what state, condition or degree” — PL VIII: 175). If there are “other worlds” in Blake’s image, one could speak of the depth of the vista and the background landscape that unfolds upon scrutinizing the details, but also the way the tree of knowledge seems to radiate beams of light, like a sun–perhaps alluding to the solar orbs in Book VIII of PL. And this does not even begin to explore how different this image is–where Eve’s naked figure is so prominent and centered (“Meanwhile at table Eve / Ministered naked, and their flowing cups / With pleasant liquors crowned” — PL V:  444-445) — from the earlier image made for Joseph Thomas, where both Adam and Eve are seated.
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9 responses to “Milton Forum

  1. testing 1 2 3. . .is this thing on?

  2. Tyler, yes, this thing is turned on. I have changed everyone’s status from “author” to “editor,” which should now mean you can post without me having to then approve it before it goes public.

  3. So I was interested in Milton’s 3rd person Omniscient narrative which gives him insight into the mind and appearance of God, the father and son, as well as into the pits of hell where God’s sight doesn’t seem to follow. How else would Satan sneak out the gate? Basically, I get a sense of Milton the poet as creator of the creator. This also follows from his opening statement about breaking from the “modern bondage” of rhyme to enter into tightly timed and controlled engagement with the retelling of Genesis. There are breaks in the lines which seem to at times violently stop the flow of the story and at other times the break is subtle. Milton also uses commas very deliberately as timing devices, and I’m just not sure what this all means with respect to how poetic style creates religious imagery.

    Furthermore, if the poet creates the religious image with their words, then Blake with his images is making the literal representation of the poetic image of religion. The creator of the creator of the creator.

    -W

  4. So I was interested in Milton’s 3rd person Omniscient narrative which gives him insight into the mind and appearance of God, the father and son, as well as into the pits of hell where God’s sight doesn’t seem to follow. How else would Satan sneak out the gate? Basically, I get a sense of Milton the poet as creator of the creator. This also follows from his opening statement about breaking from the “modern bondage” of rhyme to enter into tightly timed and controlled engagement with the retelling of Genesis. There are breaks in the lines which seem to at times violently stop the flow of the story and at other times the break is subtle. Milton also uses commas very deliberately as timing devices, and I’m just not sure what this all means with respect to how poetic style creates religious imagery.

    Furthermore, if the poet creates the religious image with their words, then Blake with his images is taking interpretive authorship of the representation of the poetic image of religion. The creator of the creator of the creator.

    -W

  5. Briefly in response to W. I’m interested in some of your examples of these specifc line breaks and commas as it wasn’t something I really noticed. My question is, are these Milton’s original commas? I’m inclined to believe not, although I don’t know. It is a question I wanted to inquire about in class tomorrow. Either way, I don’t think it detracts from your comment, just complicates the interpretation process by adding another layer concerning how we read PL.

    As a result of the mid-term assignment, I too was thinking a lot about images while reading PL. Maybe it is just because I have seen so many, but Milton’s epic seems to entirely lend itself to images and illustration. I found myself sketching out in my mind pretty detailed pictures of several of Milton’s scenes, which is not something I always do with poetry or even fiction or even with Blake. I did a little bit of google imaging and discovered that the first illustrations accompanying PL came in 1688 with the 4th edition. They were done by John Baptist Medina and were twelve illustrated plates at the start of each book. Here is a link where you can see them all: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Engraved_illustrations_in_Paradise_Lost_(4th_edition,_1688)

    It was interesting to compare some of Medina’s images with Blake’s. Now, I am not sure if Blake would have been familiar with Medina’s work, but there are some basic similarities that are really provoking. It just left me thinking about appropriation, imagination, and illustration. What was Blake working off of in his illustrations? How do images affect the way we imagine and interact with PL, especially if, like me, we’re reading it for the first time? I was really just going back and forth about whether illustrations help or hurt my reading of PL.

    Just a few unresolved thoughts.

    TG

  6. Tyler, when I read PL the line breaks sometimes seems as though a line is a complete thought, even if the same sentence continues for several lines. Other times he seems to break the wording mid-thought and continue it on the next line which makes it almost such that we have to ignore the lines and read continuously in order to not be taken out of the action by the breaks.

    Here is an example that shows Milton’s tightly controlled use of lines and commas that I’m just not quite sure what this adds to the poetic image.

    “A Universe of death, which God by curse/ Created evil, for evil only good,/ Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds,/ Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigous things,/ Abominable, inutterable, and worse/ Than Fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,/ Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.” Pg 45, lines 621-627, Book 2.

    I dug around on project gutenburg and found some scans of the original prints of the text and the commas appear to be Milton’s. So, what do line breaks with no comma and then a capital letter on the next line mean as opposed to a comma before the line break.

  7. Great questions — provides much ground for class tomorrow. In regards to these questions about line breaks, punctuation, and Milton’s intentions–and Tyler’s reflection that “Milton’s epic seems to entirely lend itself to images and illustration”–we should not lose sight (no pun intended) of the fact of Milton’s blindness, the ways it figures so prominently within the text: “what in me is dark / Illumine…” (PL I: 23-24), and Andrew Marvell’s opening tribute: “Just Heav’n thee like Tiresias to requite / Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.” The basic configuration of the text’s composition — Milton dictating to his daughters, they then writing out a text using their own orthography — raises critical questions of transmission, the movement from image in the imagination, into spoken articulation, into published word.

  8. and to add to the growing assortment of excellent, images here that take us on various detours —

    c.f. Delacroix’s famous image of Milton dictating —
    http://shakespeare.berkeley.edu/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=18235

    If ekphrasis is the verbal art of describing something visual, this turns it inside out: the visualization of a verbal, auditory transmission.

  9. What I had typed but originally failed to post (whoops!):

    My question deals primarily with a sense of place within Blake. There seems to be a deliberate geography woven throughout Blake’s poetry, specifically concerning the city of Jerusalem, and as I have just read in Milton, the city of Golgonooza. First and foremost, Golgonooza seems to me a (somewhat obvious) direct reference to Golgotha, the skull-hill of Christ’s crucifixion. As the city of art in Milton (and in Jerusalem the poem later, as I understand it), is Blake making connections between death and creativity? Death and imagination? Self-annihilation and art? In what sense are these cities aspects of literal geography, mental geography, or spiritual geography? There also is an interesting correlation with the idea of journey as embodied by the character of Milton within Blake’s poem, and his journey to the city of art. Secondly with Golgonooza referencing Golgotha (which deals with the skull), perhaps is Blake playing with creativity as being particularly enmeshed in the head, or in intellect? These are fairly large and vague questions, but maybe we could draw some connective threads here that might be useful later in Jerusalem, as well.

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