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Paradise Lost

Author(s)
Published
27/02/2003

Publisher writes

In "Paradise Lost" Milton produced a poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time, populated by a memorable gallery of grotesques. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked, innocent Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties - blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and in danger of execution - "Paradise Lost's" apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to 'justify the ways of God to men', or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.

John Leonard's revised edition of "Paradise Lost" contains full notes, which elucidates Milton's biblical, classical and historical allusions and discuss his vivid, highly original use of language and blank verse.

Author Information

John Milton, (edited by John Leonard), .

John Milton (1608-1674) spent his early years in scholarly pursuit. In 1649 he took up the cause for the new Commonwealth, defending the English revolution both in English and Latin - and sacrificing his eyesight in the process. He risked his life by publishing The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth on the eve of the Restoration (1660). His great poems were published after this political defeat. John Leonard is a Professor of English at the University of Western Ontario.

Judges' and contributors' comments

Malcolm Guite: A curious thing happened to Paradise Lost which is that it was kind of captured by academics and then disposed of by academics. It used to be the book that sat beside The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Bible in thousands of households and really was devotionally moving … If you’re allowed to read it, as it were, for fun rather than festooned with footnotes, it’s still powerfully moving.

Martyn Percy: There’s no disputing the influence of Paradise Lost.

Cally Hammond: A brilliant essay on Shakespeare and Milton said that Shakespeare was a great genius but Milton was a great artist, which Shakespeare was not, which I couldn’t agree with more, it was a brilliant observation.

Bridget Nichols: First published in 1667, Paradise Lost is a riveting account of the creation and the Fall, culminating in an almost cinematographic summary of biblical history offered to Adam by the Archangel Michael at the point of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. Its stately diction and wealth of classical and scriptural allusion do not make it easy reading for modern audiences, but it is remarkable and vivid narrative. I learned to love this work as an undergraduate and will for ever associate it with the sight of the head of department unplugging the noisy university lawnmower which was attached to a plug point in the seminar room one summer afternoon. Later on, I had the great privilege of introducing other students to the poem and was rewarded with a splendid essay, in which Eve writes to an agony aunt of her difficulties with Adam. 

What is its claim – apart from its subject matter – to be a Christian book? There is of course Milton’s own declared purpose: to ‘assert eternal providence / And justify the ways of God to men’. That is perhaps not as personally engaging, however, as what is offered on a human scale. Here is the portrait of the Son of God who sits beside his Father as the plan for the salvation of humanity is worked out: ‘in his face / Divine compassion visibly appeared, / Love without end, and without measure grace’. A little later, Adam appears in conversation in the garden with the Archangel Raphael. He speaks with delightful modesty of the way human beings might learn about their creator: ‘in contemplation of created things / by steps we may ascend to God’. After the fall and the terrible realisation of its irrevocable consequences, Michael is still able to assure Adam that the damage he and Eve have caused does not have to determine the fate of future generations. For one of their own descendants will give his life for all, and ‘to the cross he nails thy enemies’. Finally, the angel consoles Adam with the promise of spiritual maturity that will bring something better and more enduring than the Eden he and Eve have lost. If they will learn the virtues of patience, temperance and love, they will find ‘a paradise within thee happier far’.  All of these nuggets are lines to hold onto, prayers in themselves – surely the characteristics of an enduringly important Christian book.

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