John Milton “Paradise Lost” Book Eleven

John Milton wrote a justification for the Republic and after the Restoration was essentially in hiding then in internal exile. He is regarded as the second poet to Shakespeare in the English language, and Dylan Thomas knew reams of Milton by heart. I find him heavy going, I understand him perfectly, but unlike Dafydd ap Gwilym, he always uses a hundred words where two would do. Nevertheless I like one passage from book eleven which is an utterly blasting condemnation of the bad parts of human nature. He recited this when almost blind, and a series of aides recorded it. It is the famous Miltonian sonnet pattern (ten syllables a line, blank verse, often iambic pentameter, and rhythmical).

” ………. Let no man seek
Henceforth to be foretold, what shall befall
Him or his children, evil he may be sure,
Which neither his foreknowing can prevent;
And he the future evil shall no less
In apprehension than in substance feel,
Grievous to bear: but that care now is past,
Man is not whom to warn: those few escaped
Famine and anguish will at last consume,
Wandering that watery desert: I had hope
When violence was ceased, and war on earth,
All would have gone well; peace would have crowned
With length of happy days the race of Man;
But I was far deceived; for now I see
Peace to corrupt no less than war to waste.”

Those last two lines are among the greatest in all literature. In 1660 he went into hiding with a royalist warrant for his arrest. All his writings were burnt, and so much for royalism for all time. He was imprisoned for a while, and was described by my ancestral cousin John Aubrey in “Brief Lives”. His first two wives died in childbirth, and he married for a third time. He was a Puritan, which means simply that conscience of thought is unassailable. He was a minister under Oliver Cromwell, responsible for foreign affairs as they would be described today, and never gave up his republican ideals. Although “Paradise Lost” is about the loss of the Republic, it expresses, ultimately, an optimism for humankind.

In contemporary political worlds, idealism has essentially disappeared, so that is why I advocate strongly a campaign of sustained lobbying to try to force the politicians to yield up their ill gotten power. A lot of people feel like this today. In other words I advocate a referendum system. In Wales here, a small country with a strong radical tradition, government by referendum would be easy, especially with the electronic means at our disposal. Unfortunately, even intellectuals now either cannot understand Milton, or any poetry, or do not care about idealism. That is a dangerous state of society, not to say very boring.

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