Example poetry

Word Games – Politics and Poetry

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, July 23. Good morning! It is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by the listeners. I am Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Now for the pun. This month, George Grant delves into one of the most significant works in the English language.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Just as it is axiomatically assumed that politics and religion do not make particularly pleasant table conversation, they are also assumed not to make particularly pleasant poetry. But, John Milton breaks both assumptions in his masterful work, lost paradise. It is an explicitly political and ineluctably religious work. Indeed, it is an excellent example of the most inflexible ideological and theological dogmatism of the seventeenth century, partisan of zeal. And yet, it is a magnificent poetry. Her beauty and grace are undeniable. Its majestic cadence, lofty vision and soaring imagery earned Milton a place in English literature after Shakespeare.

According to Samuel Johnson, Milton’s work is “a treasure trove of boundless breadth, depth and height”. Walter Scott agreed saying it “set the standard by which all future epics could be judged”. Harold Bloom said, “If Shakespeare is the center of the Western literary canon, Milton is its anchor. And Thomas Macaulay said, “Milton’s poetry acts like an incantation. His words are words of enchantment.

It is amazing that a work should come from the pen of such a controversial author as Milton who lived in such a controversial time. A bloody civil war has divided what was once merry England. This calamitous period was followed by the regicide of King Charles, 10 years of Puritan parliamentary rule and finally the restoration of the Stuart Monarchy. These events were not just the background to Milton’s life: they were his life. He was an active, passionate and crucial player in these revolutionary events. And his poetry is indelibly marked by his activism and dedication.

Milton’s intention in lost paradise was to explain the world of conflict in contemporary England through the prism of the Great War in Heaven between Satan’s infernal minions and God’s providential kingdom – in an epic poem of astonishing beauty to rival Homer and Virgil. In order to accomplish this goal, he not only controversially recast the biblical account of the Fall, but he also controversially recast the English language, bringing in more new words, or neologisms, than any other writer in the story. He imposed new meanings on old words (like: space, goose and perfume); he turned verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs (like: amazing, pleasant and irresponsible); he created a host of new compound words (like: arch-fiend, self-delusion and lovelorn); and he invented a veritable catalog of entirely new words (like: pandemonium, formidable, sensual, dismissive, complacency, liturgical, debauchery, padlock and didactic).

Milton died in 1674, just after the second edition of lost paradise had appeared to mild critical acclaim. During its lifetime it sold well enough to earn Milton a total of about 10 books. But over the next two decades the book went through six editions, including one published in 1678 with large engraved illustrations. Since then, it has never lost its status as a classic, and it has never ceased to be a source of controversy. Milton would not have done it otherwise.

I am George Grant.


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