Milton’s Paper

Well, actually MY paper on Milton. I’ve decided to write on “Milton’s Influence on Popular Culture” and this has led me to some interesting stuff.

Did you know that Mary Shelley was very inspired by Milton and used him in Frankenstein? And ditto Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials? I’ve read them both (working on my 2nd book in the Pullman trilogy at the moment). I’ve also watched The Devil’s Advocate (great movie) and Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen…need I say more?). Animal House has a great scene that mentions Milton.

In case you are not aware, if you can memorize Milton’s most famous line: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” and use it somewhere, you, too, can claim to be “highly” influenced by Milton!

As usual, I have accumulated a lot of info which I now have to “trim” (read “slash like crazy”) into a succinct 10 pages. It was due Sept. 1, but I asked (and got) an extension (no new deadline specified), and now it turns out that Bar Ilan, due to summer war, has extended the deadline for all take-home exams and papers to Jan. 1 2015. Which I WON’T take advantage of. This paper gets submitted SOON.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired (again) a bit my Milton (note iambic pentameter… sort of.)


Oh! This final paper, its rampant thoughts
On Milton’s influence on works and films
Continues into far eternity
That stretches far. When will my paper see
Its end? Finalized with MLA style.
But seeming now too many pages that
I must make more concise – or fear the rage
Of prof who must read  much more than he wants,
And tearing hair will fling my work away
“An F for you,” he’ll cry. It stinks! So there.

And Milton said: “Please pass the butter”

It’s been a while. I have since read Paradise Lost in its entirety, fulfilling my quest of completing it once through before the end of the Pesach break.

I have to admit that Milton’s efforts are much appreciated. His epic is full of picturesque description just aching (in my opinion) to be translated into a graphic novel (i.e. comic book). William Blake, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t do it justice.

Note: Evoking my artistic side, I’ve scribbled a number of vignettes on the self-made cover  of my book. (For the record, I ripped up my huge volume of “Milton’s Works” into a number of smaller, easily transported portions; to keep the pages from scattering, I bound it with bristol and white glue.) If I ever finish it, I will post photos.

Of course, Milton being Milton, he has succeeded in stretching out the story of the Original Sin — about 23 lines in Genesis — into 10, 557 lines. He has added in lots of good stuff and  I quite love his descriptions of  Paradise, which, as I said cry out for illustration.

However, I have some profound thoughts about the religious aspect of all this, but can’t seem to get them organized enough in my brain to put them into English. It involves the idea that the story of the original sin is MAN’S attempt to explain man’s inherent quest to know (I don’t believe that the Bible is a “true” story dictated by an All-Being God), and thus Man’s inherent evil and despicable nature (which it is, despite many ‘good’ people, Human’s overall tendency is to be vile, ambitious and greedy). The story of the “Original sin” is just that, a STORY. That is, it is an allegory to describe Man’s inherent nature. This nature came FIRST, before the  idea of an “original sin.”

Somehow, in discussing Paradise Lost, the whole idea that Milton is simply a flesh-and-blood person aiming to retell a cool story gets lost and we seems to discuss him as if he is relating, with some God-given spirit, an event that really happened.

I know, I am not at all being clear. No matter. Maybe one day I will be able to sort out my thoughts more coherently.

In the meantime, because I “complained” elsewhere that Milton, being Milton, would probably say “please pass the butter” in 100 words or more, and since it’s time for more “Linda a la Milton” (or is this “Milton a la Linda”? I am confused), behold the following.

And in pentameter no less (pretty close to iambic, I think)… and free verse (i.e. no rhyme).


Please pass the butter a la Milton (i.e. in 100 words or more)

Now as I sit here and of pleasant bread
Do eat, but wish that lovely slice be now
slathered by some del’cate,  tasty spread,
do thus entreat my lady fair at right,
to reach her lithesome arm to yonder place,
and pass that bowl. What talent,  farmers bold,
to make so flavorsome this bovine stuff,
from udders full. From highland Ayrshires  red,
or auburn Guernseys mottled bright, pi-ed 
Holstein, or buff colored Jersey, that chews
her cud in placid stance in pasture yon.
Praise the dairyman: who take’th liquid white
and bland and churn’th well, and maketh thus
this creamy joy my naked bread adorn.



Aeropagatica–Rhymes with…

Continuing on with Milton, I have to say that the class last Wednesday on Lycidas did end off on a nice note, our professor demonstrating the wonderful way that various themes were woven into the poem. I’d have to check my notes to actually remember how and what, but it was a fairly interesting class.

This week’s reading is Aeropagatica: For the Liberty of unlicenc’d Printing. This is Milton’s 17,950-word plea to the parlament [sic] against book pre-publication censorship (which was effected in 1643).

Now, I respect Milton’s purpose, and agree with him that such censorship is uncalled for. I believe he made good points in trying to show how the ancient Greeks renounced censorship and how the Catholics installed it, and that it is virtually impossible and unfeasible to try to stifle the flow of ideas. I imagine that the government would have taken his ideas to heart. However,  I read the short (2-page) introduction in the Dartmouth Milton Room, which noted that “Milton’s Areopagitica had virtually no political impact in its day: Parliament ignored it.”

Then I got down to reading it. Did I mention that this is 17,950 words long? I read and read and read and read and it went on and on and on and on. There never seems to be a place to come up for air. I didn’t note any elegant transitions. After a while, I lost track of what I was reading as the words just seemed to register on my retina and dissolve somewhere between there and  the thought centers in my brain. About half-way through I gave up (I’ll get back to it later on, but at this point, my head is popping and it’s time to feed the dogs.)

Just for fun. I timed myself reading a bit out loud: It took me about 7 minutes to read 1,000 words, meaning that reading 18,000 words (without pause) would come to just a bit over two hours. Non-stop. Might I venture that the reason it had no impact is because by about the 30th minute of his speech his listeners had tuned out and were dreaming about their dinner? Or having a short snooze? Or perhaps they had (like what seems to go on in Knesset) left the hall? Dunno.

My professor is an esteemed Milton expert. In fact, he wrote an introduction to the Hebrew translation of Aeropagatica. I imagine if anyone can help me “appreciate” this long, drawn-out diatribe, it will be him. So, while I consider reading it (at this point) to be somewhat tortuous, I am looking forward (sort of) to class tomorrow to see what will come out of it.

Comments welcome!


If Milton wrote nursery rhymes

Continuing with my (doubts about taking this) course on Milton:

I did email the professor, who answered that I shouldn’t feel so inferior, and probably lots of others in the class also feel as I do (lacking proper background) and not be afraid to ask questions and that perhaps he was not doing enough to give background info.

Which was nice, in itself, but didn’t help much to improve my knowledge. I did continue with my “Basic English Lit” book. Which, if not helping to understand Milton, has added somewhat to missing background info.

However, can’t say I’m getting more optimistic about the course. If anything, I’m feeling more panic.

Last week we were discussing Milton’s “Masque.” I read it and all the accompanying pieces the prof had recommended. Sitting in class I realized I  should have read it at least once more (probably 2-3 times more). My memory sucks. However, I think I did make a “profound” comment by noting that today’s weddings and bar mitzvahs are the 17th century’s masques. Well, aren’t they? Conspicuous consumption at their best!

Now I am reading Lycidas — 165 lines that really could have been expressed in, say, 40.  I hope Milton’s followers won’t organize a lynch party, but … jeez  this guy is very HEAVY. And such a show-off: “Hey guys! Look at all my knowledge about the Greek and Roman myths and stuff.” And VERBOSE!  “Hey man! Look how I can say ‘pass the butter’ in one hundred words or more!”  Heavy, heavy, heavy.

Take an example:

And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jasmine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet. [ 145 ]
The Musk-rose, and the well attir’d Woodbine,
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears, [ 150 ]
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.
For so to interpose a little ease,

It’s like: “Well… if I’m already talking about a flower, let me put in every type of flower I can think of. ” (Here’s another person’s opinion of the flowers in Lycidas. Basically, he’s saying that Milton just stuck in any ol’ flowers.)

Now, I’ll talk about another passage: Lines  64-84.

Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade, [ 65 ]
And strictly meditate the thankles Muse,
Were it not better don as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise [ 70 ]
(That last infirmity of Noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious dayes;
But the fair Guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears, [ 75 ]
And slits the thin spun life. But not the praise,
Phœbus repli’d, and touch’d my trembling ears;
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’ world, nor in broad rumour lies, [ 80 ]
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfet witnes of all judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav’n expect thy meed.

I’ve read it at least five times and still can’t fathom what it means (and that’s reading with annotations and OUT LOUD). (Update, March 26: For a complete analysis of the above lines, go to the Shmoop site.)

It’s like taking some perfectly sensible, simple stuff, and adding in as many words as possible (some of which make no sense?) that need a degree (make that a doctorate) in ancient literature to decipher.

So, continuing with the dog theme of my previous posts, I will do some Milton “magic”  …   catch it here.


What’s a nice BSc graduate like me doing in a course on Milton?

The second semester is underway. This semester will, hopefully, be a lot less hectic than the last as I am only taking 2 seminar courses instead of 4 (plus continuing the year-long lecture course in Jewish studies).

Despite the amazing amount of work I had last semester, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. All four courses, actually all five, if you include the Jewish studies course, complemented each other beautifully. Just to reiterate, I took two undergraduate courses — Introduction to Literature (Homer, Virgil, Plato and the like) and American Drama (Williams, Miller, etc.), and two graduate seminar courses — Literary Translation (a practical course) and Contemporary Literary Theory (a humdinger of a course! Tons to read, lots of new jargon to learn. Extremely challenging!). And even though there were a lot of new concepts for me to digest, I found myself engaged in every course, with lots (maybe too much) to contribute to the class. I kept up with the readings and assignments and truly enjoyed every class.

This semester I am taking a seminar course in Hebrew about heterolinguistic translation, which is interesting and engaging and shouldn’t be a problem.

And, I am taking a course on John Milton.


Toward the end of yesterday’s class, the third one so far, I looked around the room, and noted that almost every single one of my classmates  had managed at some point or other to participate in the discussion. Everyone except me! And I realized that almost everyone in the class (everyone EXCEPT me?) probably has a BA in the humanities, if not in English lit, so that all those basic words and concepts that are tripping me up are second nature to them.

The only part of the class I really understood was exactly what the magic square in Durer’s engraving of melancholy was about!


So, I’ve dragged out an old high-school text about literature, and plan to read it from start to finish; or at least up to the part about Milton, and hope I can give myself a crash course so that by the end of this course I won’t feel that I made a dreadful mistake taking it.

Hopefully, I will learn to appreciate this man who seems to have such an extensive fan club.

To make my “crash course on English lit” more interesting, I am challenging myself to do some creative writing at each stage based on the genre under discussion. I started with Anglo-Saxon literature. (See “Walking the Curs,” as  influenced by Beowulf, and more…)

Best get back to it!

(Update: For more on Milton, see the following more recent posts: If Milton Wrote Nursery Rhymes, Aeropagatica, and Please Pass the Butter.)