[Milton-L] Balachandra Rajan

Sara van den Berg vandens at slu.edu
Sat Jan 24 12:14:42 EST 2009

Thank you for this tribute to a wonderful man and scholar.  Like so
many Miltonists, I cherish memories of his generosity.  Do you know if
his Milton Seminar lecture has been/will be published?

Sara van den Berg

On Sat, Jan 24, 2009 at 9:50 AM, John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:
> 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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