Monday, September 9, 2013

The Emotional Pageantry of Milton

The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods (1809), William Blake
Of the collection of Milton's early poems that we read, his poem "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" was the first one that had a rather powerful emotional effect on me.  For the first time since I started reading his works, I could feel his emotion and the joy and power behind his words. While the previous poems were beautiful, they didn't have as much feeling behind them. This poem was the first religious one that seemed to rise above Milton's previous works to become something beautiful. So why is that? I honestly think it's due to Milton's use of classic pagan imagery.

Throughout "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," I noticed that Milton uses a lot of Roman/Greek mythology in his use of imagery, pertaining to religious subject matter.  He borrows mythological characters such as nymphs to describe elements of nature. I think he uses this imagery to showcase the different religions and how they all must bow down to the infant Christ. I believe this imagery is what helped Milton to evoke such powerful emotions through his words. 

Milton also uses classical Greek references in Paradise Lost. While they are not as explicit, you can still see elements of pagan images. For example, he refers to the Aonian mount, the Greek mountain of the Muses, and he also talks of middle flight, which references the flight of Icarus. He seems to work this blending of classical and biblical imagery with Greek mythology and biblical references. I think he goes back and forth between the two to help show the most powerful image, whether it may be classical Greek, or biblical. Where one type of image may not work, another will. He manages to weave fluidly between these two elements that normally work against each other. I'm interested to see how he continues to blend classical and biblical imagery throughout Paradise Lost.


  1. You make some great points! I assumed his blending of cultures and traditions arose from his broad educational backgroud.

  2. I think the emotion to which you refer in Milton's writing reflects the difference between poetry that is about religion and poetry that does something religious. Too often Milton is read as a kind of theologian, a philosopher about religion, rather than as a worshiper.

    Good to pay attention to how he uses classical imagery and stories, too.