Monday, September 16, 2013


As I read the works for today's class, I felt like I could see Milton gearing up for something greater through these works.  His prolusions show a mastery of rhetoric and argument, and Comus shows his skill as a poet, especially in weaving in a moral lesson without it feeling overbearing.  An important theme that I saw in Prolusion 7 is the importance of choices in our lives.

"Student at His Desk" by Pieter Codde
In Prolusion 7, Milton presents a choice between ignorance and learning and which will bring greater happiness to mankind.  In parts it reminded me of "Il Penseroso" in that he acknowledges that study and learning are not always pleasant in the way simple mirth is.  He says that he looked at his life and would "think how far removed I was from that tranquility which learning had at first promised me, how hard my life was like to be amid this turmoil and agitation, and that all attempts to pursue learning had best be abandoned."  I can sympathize with that feeling.  I've stayed up late often enough to finish difficult assignments that I've dreamed of abandoning it for "blissful ignorance."  Fortunately, I have always realized (as Milton himself points out) that our choice to deal with a few difficulties now leads to greater happiness later in this life and in the next.  In Prolusion 7, Milton goes on to describe how mankind is endowed by God with "a certain divine spirit, a part of himself, as it were," and that the only way to obtain happiness is to feed one's spirit with learning and worship.

I think my favorite part of Prolusion 7 is the part where Milton describes how Ignorance (I think, especially willful ignorance) reduces a person to being less than animal, and even less than trees or rocks.  In order to be truly human and have free will we have to exercise choice, and as Milton shows us, "human intellect...guides and illuminates with its radiance the will."  Essentially we can't make choices without learning, without engaging our minds.  I foresee this idea being an important theme when we get to reading Paradise Lost (footnote 5 in Prolusion 7 references PL here with the quote, "reason also is choice").

Milton's Comus also shares this theme of the importance of choice, which Milton there applies more to morality and virtue.  I feel like the strong rhetoric of the prolusions and the poetry of Comus are Milton's way of gearing up for the greater work that is to follow (Paradise Lost), which makes me excited for that work.  It seems like he's practicing his arguments and working out the poetry to convey these themes in the most beautiful way possible.

1 comment:

  1. That was one of my favorite parts of Prolusion 7 as well: at first, I was like, there's no way he means that ignorance would reduce a person to being less than a rock...but then, a rock doesn't HAVE the choice to be ignorant. It's just a thing. We have the choice, and if we make the wrong choice--if we CHOOSE to stay ignorant--that says everything about us.