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Milton's Early Concerns

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 8 years, 5 months ago



English 451 Milton: Short Assignment (Milton’s Early Concerns)


For Tuesday, January 31, I’d like you to write a short paper (2-3 pp.) that addresses some kind of tension in Milton’s sense of his self-development.  That is, in his early poetry he announces his intentions and discusses what’s involved in training himself for his vocation.  What I’d like you to do is to find a specific problem he will have to solve.


The problem may have to do with his training or temperament, or some other aspect of his biography.  It may involve navigating some kind of social or more broadly cultural institution.  He may have a theological or philosophical problem to overcome before he can become the poet he wants.  Or perhaps there’s some kind of incompatibility between what he pictures for himself and the present state of literary discourse.


You don’t have to actually show the Milton resolves whatever you see as his tension.  What I’d like the body of your paper to do is show Milton wrestling with the issue.  You may stick to one text, or look at 2 or 3 (however, if the problem is so common that you can find it in 6 or 7 texts, you probably need to narrow it down).  But I’d like you to find a couple of specific places and read the language closely. 


Here's an example of a thesis that grows from a specific feature in Milton's poem on time:


Though a very early and brief lyric, John Milton's short poem "On Time" is highly representative of the poet's self-assurance.  Throughout the lines, the speaker exults in the defeat of time, mockingly encourages it to retreat to non-existence, and confidently anticipates his own salvation and heavenly bliss.  Oddly, however, for all the rhetorical bravado, Milton's speaker is ultimately passive.  He may know something about the great enemy Time's vulnerabilities, and he may be able to trumpet these, but his voice seems incapable of making anything happen.  In the end, the speaker looks forward to a state of security and stability, but as a young poet Milton seems to have no capacity to create such a state or establish for himself a place there.


The body of my paper will explore the kind of contrasts I outline in my intro, though with concrete examples.  For instance, I would point out that Milton robs Time--in the figure of the clock--of some of its power by pointing out that its minutes are driven by a lead weight: by the external force of gravity, in other words.  So the speaker himself relies on the Christian narrative and its culminating Last Judgment to shape his forecast of Time's demise.  I think I would also point out the double force of "then," which can be both indicate a logical progression (if x, then y) and specify a moment in the future.  In the second half of the poem, the "whens" and "thens" work to describe a condition that must, by the force of the logic inherent in the divine narrative, come to pass.  At the same time (heh, heh), the repeated use of when/then reminds us that the "then" is still to come.  The speaker can only describe the state of bliss, not hasten it along.


Lastly, please follow MLA format, citing poems by line numbers and including a works cited list at the end of your paper.

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