[Milton-L] Frank Kermode & RS on Milton

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun Aug 22 16:25:23 EDT 2010

Your response is perfectly reasonable; my post clearly exhibits only
minimal and superficial acvquaintance with your accounts of PL. But at
80 & with insufficient eyesight to see the walk sign at a traffic light,
I'm not going to read _anything_ more than superficially except for
certain documents which I will be paying a student $22 an hour to read
to mee! I can read on the screen, but only slowly and imperfectly.

I've read your posts on PL and the earthly paradise, & even in that
skimpy form they are, as I said in my post, fairly persuasive -- as
Kermode's reading had been 50 years ago. He says Milton makes death
terrible by making life look so attractive! You say that Milton presents
for the imagination a life richly worth living. I don't see how either
of you can be refuted! I did try 50 years ago to read Books 9-12
'feeling' Kermode's reading as I did so. I even tried some years later
to _use_ it in teaching PL (or parts of it) to an English Lit survey
course. I still think he's right, but I still don't see how his reading
becomes actual in an individual's experience of the poem. This is not a
fatal weakness, or even a weakness at all, since surely one of the
things we do with any reading of any poem is look back on it & think
about/discuss with others the questions and/or perspectives the poem

I regret that I didn't come across your account while I still had eyes
to read it with. But your remarks on this list seemed to me to be useful
pointers to the kind of thigs you would say in developing them. And as I
recollected some of those observations this morning while thinking about
Kermode it occurred to me that there was a real linkage between a
reading that focused on the loss of a life worth living and a reading
which focused on the poem as presenting a life worth living! And if that
perception was at all valid, then (I thought) your reading just might
encounter over the next 30 years the kind of non-response that Kermode's
had received. I always thought that strange, and began to speculate the
last couple days on why. I may or may not be right in my speculations --
they are only speculations. I don't think Kermode can be refuted. I made
a (perhaps wrong) guess that your reading couldn't be either -- and if
so it was going to get ignored.


richard strier wrote:
> Goodness, Carrol, I don't know whether to celebrate or mourn.  If my reading of
> PL is persuasive, I don't see why others can't build on it -- deo volente.
> ---- Original message ----
> >Date: Sun, 22 Aug 2010 13:14:00 -0500
> >From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of Carrol Cox
> <cbcox at ilstu.edu>)
> >Subject: [Milton-L] Frank Kermode on Milton
> >To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> >
> >Frank Kermode, who died this past week at the age of 90, wrote a long
> >and fascinatng exxay on Paradise Lost in 1960 which was strangely
> >ignored by later critics. Aa bit later on Iwill return t this fact and
> >argue that, as superb as the essay was, critical indifference to it was,
> >in its way, quite rational. And I am going to predict that the same fate
> >awaits the  Richard Strier's thesis on PL as a celebration of the
> >earthly paradise.
> >
> >Keremode's thesis was that PL is a poem about death! (This is all from a
> >50-year memory: my eyesight or lack of it  prevents me from checking the
> >text.) And near the end of the essay he quotes a poem by Robert Graves,
> >the fist of which, as I recall, was that after the speaker found love,
> >death became terrible. Let us hypothetically identify a harmonious love
> >affair and the earthly paradise. Then Kermode's interpretation of PL and
> >Graves's poem both are versions of  richard's thesis of PL as
> >envisioning the earthly paradise, for death is terrible only as the loss
> >of that which is of great value. Kermode's essay, that is,
> >incvorporatesd  richard's thesis, but uses it as a way station to his
> >claim that the poem is about death.
> >
> >(This of course a very crude summary of both interpretations. Kermode's
> >essay may be found in a collection edited by him, The Living Milton,
> >1960.)
> >
> >I found Kermode's essay quite persuasive when I read it and was
> >surprised when in my extensive reading in criticism of PL, 1960-1980, I
> >found no references at all to it. But here, I believe, was the rub. As
> >persuasive as his construal of the poem was, accepting did not, really,
> >change one's reading of the poem. (Conttrast: I think Achilles'
> >concrete, lived, knowledge of his own certain death at Troy consistently
> >energizes one's reading of the poem.) Moreover, there was nothing
> >another critic  could _do_ with it! Far from suggesting new lines of
> >inquiry, it was in fact a dead end. One could accept it, see it as
> >suspeerior to manyother readigns, recognize particular passages in PL
> >it  illuminated -- but that was _all_ one could do with it. And as I
> >say, in a way Kermode's interpretation embodied the interpretation
> >Strier gives, makes sense only in the context of the awefulness of
> >losing the paradise embodied in the poem.
> >
> >And now I'm suggesting that Richard's interpretation will meet
> >essentially the same fate. It will be read with nods of approval -- and
> >then forgotten. There is nothing, really, that critics can do with it.
> >
> >Carrol
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