[Milton-L] RE: thank you Terrance

Nairba Sirrah nairbasirrah at msn.com
Sat Dec 18 18:07:18 EST 2010

Defining "poetry" is very difficult. At times it is like standing in that uppermost corner of Arizona in the most desolate of mountain rock, and trying to point to proof of the three other states, with no line or sign ion sight.
Most would definitely call Paradise Lost poetry. But some would not call it as a whole "a poem" as much they would call it an "epic." The word poetry usually conjures thoughts of out-of-the-norm use of language, with pre-eminence yielded to metaphor and mystery, in an attempt to allow readers to decide its meaning for themselves; the great poet publishes a million+ poems in one, for a million different types of people.
For me, Paradise Lost is an exposition done amidst the framework of epic tradition. With his constant belittling of moments written by Homer and Virgiil, he was obviously trying to compete with and defeat the empires of those two authors.
It's hard to decide if his personal quest to do that overwhelmed his inital purpose stated in Book I's invocation. But like Shakespeare, Milton died without conceptual commentary - thus his gift of letting each reader decide for themselves.
My decision is that he altered Christian narrative not only to keep in league with the ridiculous alterings and independent statements of historical facts done in the Illiad and Aeneid, but also show tthat anyone can invent their own religion and, if done with enough eloquence and hard to verify distortion, have it stick.
Milton basically took all the scripture, all the folklore, and all the independent variants of interpretation caused by the Reformation and said "ok, if this is what you're talking about...THIS is what you're talking about."
The bottom line is the ridulous bottom line: we are talking about a story about A TALKING SNAKE. No mouth in the animal world is less able to form a word. And yet, perhaps that is the moral of the story he was hoping all of us would see, and relegate Christianty to the prison of forgone mythology.
"Poetry" could get away with saying that in 1667. A book published as straight-on religious criticsm could not.
Thanks in large part to Milton's fight for a free press, it finally can.

Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2010 11:12:02 -0500
From: tlindall at gmail.com
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Subject: [Milton-L] What Milton's Paradise Lost is all about

In my opinion Paradise lost is not just for scholars, it is for everybody of every race, religion, etc. It is for Nairba to jump up on tables and recite with joy, it is for me to paint illustrations with joy, it is something to celebrate and admire, even if we do always understand the deeper significance. It is JM's great gift to the world, not for just a few. I and many others are grateful to those of you who study Milton in depth and give us insights that we do not have or could not have attained, and then offer your understandings to the world in turn. That is a great society. I have learned so much from all of you Milton scholars and I am in your debt. So, I sent you the introduction to the Elephant Folio yesterday in part because of what this great Milton scholar, Robert J. Wickenheiser, said near the end. Experts (National Endowment for Humanities) called his curriculum "ground breaking" and referred to it as "a national model". He understood that Paradise Lost should be given to students as a joy, not a task. Here is what he says:

"Milton's great epic has unfortunately been doomed to that category of poems which is called “intellectual” or worse, “philosophical” and “theological,” as if “epic” weren't tough enough to comprehend. “Where are the footnotes” I was asked by a young student when viewing a copy of the first edition of Paradise Lost in my collection, an epic which you obviously cannot understand or even read without footnotes and various other aids to assist the reader.
"My reply to all of that is: Ye gads, what balderdash!  Poetry is meant to be read out loud and experienced in rewarding ways by each reader, very similar to music, which is readily available to the various tastes of individuals of all ages and which can be listened to in such a wide variety of ways that it sometimes boggles the mind.
"Would you pass up a new musical system out of fear that you don't know how to set it up or what it means, and because the documentation which came along with the new system seems more confusing than helpful.  Such an approach will never allow you to hear and to love music!"
Poetry, even such a long epic poem as Milton's Paradise Lost, is like music: it is meant to be read out loud and to be heard; to be embraced, comparable not only to experiencing the music we love, but also the art we love and which we display on our walls in our homes because of our love for that art."

Robert J. Wickenheiser, Ph. D.
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