[Milton-L] Balachandra Rajan

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Sat Jan 24 10:50:49 EST 2009


Dear List, with sorrow I report the passing, yesterday, of Balachandra Rajan, one of the truly great Miltonists.  Like Milton, Bal devoted his life to literature and public service. No other Miltonist's career has ever exhibited such an elegant Miltonic pattern. Just as Milton turned aside from poetry for more than twenty years to serve the cause of the fledgling English Republic, before returning to poetry to write some of the noblest poems in English, so Bal, having written one of the most influential books of Milton criticism, Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth-Century Reader (1947), left England (where he had been a Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge) and returned to his native India to serve the new Republic in the Indian Foreign Service, working with the United Nations, UNESCO and UNICEF before returning to literature and literary studies, first at the University of Delhi, then at the University of Western Ontario. "He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things," wrote Milton during his own period of public service, "ought him selfe to bee a true Poem, that is, a composition, and patterne of the best and honourablest things." Bal was one such "patterne." If his earlier critical work looks backward, to "the seventeenth-century reader," his later criticism looks forward. He was always abreast of the latest developments, whether in literary theory, as in his seminal 1985 study The Form of the Unfinished: English Poetics from Spenser to Pound, or post-colonialism, as in his 1999 book Under Western Eyes: India from Milton to Macaulay and a collection of essays, co-edited with Elizabeth Sauer, Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations (2004). Another collection of Bal's own essays, Milton and the Climate of Reading (2006) won the Milton Society of America's Irene Samuel Memorial Award. I have emphasized Bal's contributions to Milton studies, for those are the works I know best, but Bal, unlike most Miltonists, had numerous other areas of expertise: Eliot, Yeats, and Pound, to name a few-and his books on those poets, W. B. Yeats: a Critical Introduction (1965) and The Overwhelming Question: a Study of the Poetry of T. S. Eliot (1976) are still classics in their respective fields. Bal also found time to write two novels, The Dark Dancer and Too Long in the West. The story still circulates (it appeared recently on this very list) about the remarkable occasion when Bal recited the whole of book twelve of Paradise Lost from memory. I did not witness that event (it occurred before I came to Western), but many of my colleagues did. I did have the privilege of hearing several of Bal's lectures, most recently his plenary address, "Samson hath quit himself / Like Samson," delivered at the Canada Milton Seminar in Toronto on 22 April 2006. I shall never forget the occasion, and neither will anyone who witnessed it. Frail with age, Bal approached the podium unsteadily and I wondered whether he would be able to speak for a full hour. But as soon as he began to utter his inimitable prose (not even glancing at a lecture note) it was as if one were hearing Milton himself, or "som Orator renound / In Athens or free Rome, where Eloquence / Flourishd, since mute." A beloved teacher and revered researcher, Honored Scholar of the Milton Society of America and a Fellow and Medallist of the Royal Society of Canada, Balachandra Rajan was indeed a true poem. 



John Leonard
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