Paradise Lost stands as a great stone stele in English literary history, dominating poetic imaginations for at least two centuries and producing opinions as strong as they were unpredictable. Voltaire viewed its author, John Milton, as a "barbarian who made a long commentary in ten books of turgid verse on the first chapter of Genesis." Far from agreeing with Voltaire, that champion of plain language, William Wordsworth, called Milton a poet for all ages, whose poetry had "a voice whose sound was like the sea." A voice whose sound was like the sea? Was Wordsworth hearing things?
In this course, we will try to hear what Wordsworth heard, not only the sound of roaring waves but also the richness, wit, profundity in Milton's intellectual and moral struggle between human dignity, on the one hand and, on the other, the necessity for human beings to submit to God's word, a struggle that can be traced from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained and finally to Samson Agonistes. Students can expect to learn not only how much the Bible helped give Milton a voice like the sea but also why the questions he struggled with are still with us in the modern age.
Course requirements: Two short papers (5-6 pages) and one longer paper (10 pages).
Texts: The Bible and John Milton, The Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes.
KEYWORDS: poetry, moral struggle, intellectual struggle, tradition, harmony