John Milton (1608-1674) : A Religious and Immortal Poet.

English Literature UGC NET PGT TGT English literature Free Notes and PDFs of Litchart on John Milton. Important points on John Milton for Quick Revision and For making your own notes.

Book Quotes

John Milton

  • A lonely figure not belonging to any movement.
  • Polyglot, scholar.
  • Had broadly Protestant views (i.e., he did not fully conform to Protestant views).
  • Born in Bread Street, Cheapside
  • Son of a well-to-do London scrivener (copyist) and composer.
  • He saw three periods : Charles first, puritan Age and Restoration Age.
  • He was a religious person .
  • He wrote first phamplet ” On Divorce”.

All is not lost, the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and the courage never to submit or yield.

John Milton Quotes
  • Enrolled in St Paul’s School probably in 1620.
  • Received a Christian Humanist education based on the teachings of Erasmus and Colet.
  • Had a thorough grounding in classical rhetoric.As a noble skill necessary for the citizen who takes a proper part in public affairs.A view advocated by Cicero and Isocrate . Later, Milton condemned the abuse of rhetoric in the speeches of Satan in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained .

I will not deny but that the best apology against false accusers is silence and sufferance, and honest deeds set against dishonest words.
John Milton

John Milton Quotes
  • Came to Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1625.
  • Because of his hair and delicate manners he was called “Lady of Christ’s”.
  • Already a scholar, eager to be a great poet.
  • Young Milton began his poetic career with verse paraphrases of Psalms and Ovidian Latin elegies
    Earliest formal poem is probably “Ode on the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough” written in 1628, age 20.
  • Uses both classical mythology and Christian ideas.
  • Argues that the infant cannot be dead; she must be in some happy sphere above.
  • A disagreement with the Cambridge curriculum and his tutor William Chappell led to a brief rustication (i.e., suspension) from the university in his second year, 1627.

Innocence, Once Lost, Can Never Be Regained. Darkness, Once Gazed Upon, Can Never Be Lost.

John Milton Quotes

Writing at Cambridge

  • At this time, he wrote the first of his Latin elegies, a verse letter to Charles Diodati, his friend from St. Paul’s – Elegia Prima.
  • At Cambridge, Milton was on good terms with Edward King and befriended the Anglo-American theologian Roger Williams.
  • In 1629, he was awarded a BA degree; in 1632 an MA.
  • In 1629, he wrote the nativity ode, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”.
  • Describes Christ’s birth and renunciation of worldly life, and connects it to the Crucifixion.
  • First distinctly Miltonic work
  • Impressive diction, high literary & religious ideals.
  • During this time, when he was 22, he wrote “The Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet, W. Shakespeare” Now known as “On Shakespear”
  • This was Milton’s first published poem Appeared anonymously in Shakespeare’s Second Folio (1632)
    Shortly after he left Cambridge, he must have composed L’Allegro and Il Penseroso.


  • Meaning “happy man”, contrasting with the companion pastoral poem, Il Penseroso, meaning “the melancholy man”Invokes Euphrosyne, Greek goddess of Mirth, as well as other allegorical figures of joy
    Extols the active and cheerful life in the country
    Final lines
    These delights, if thou canst give
    Mirth with thee, I mean to live
  • These lines respond to Elizabethan perspectives, especially the lines “Come live with me and be my love” (from a pastoral poem by Marlowe)

Il Penseroso

  • Depicts a similar day spent in contemplation and thoughtOffers a vision of poetic melancholy
    Dismisses joy from his imagination and invokes Goddess Melancholy, veiled in black.
  • Imagines that the goddess will reward his devotion to her by revealing divine prophetic visions.
  • Final lines:
    These pleasures, Melancholy give And I with thee will choose to live”

Horton Poems
Upon leaving Cambridge, he moved briefly into his parents’ house at Hammersmith.
From 1635, Milton spent 6 years at Horton in intensive private study, which made him one of the most learned of English poets.
The poems written during this period are called “Horton poems”

1) “Upon the Circumcision”
2) “At a Solemn Music”
3) “On Time”
4)Arcades (probably earlier) and Comus

Two Masques
In 1632 and 1634 respectively, Milton wrote the masques Arcades and Comus
Arcades (1632). Written in praise of Alice Spencer, Countess Dowager of Darby. Music written by Henry Lawes
Jonson’s masques. Served as a basis for Comus

Comus (1634)

  • Published anonymously in 1637.Upholds the virtues of temperance and chastity.
  • First presented on Michaelmas at Ludlow Castle.
  • Original music composed by Henry Lawes

The Plot

  • Two brothers and their sister (“Lady”) journey through the woods.When the brothers go off in search of food and water, the debauched god Comus (son of Bacchus) approaches her disguised as a villager and attempts to seduce her using necromancy, and binds her to a chair
    But the Lady exercises right reason (recta ratio or freedom of mind)
  • The brothers, aided by the Attendant Spirit, chase off Comus, and the water nymph Sabrina releases the Lady on account of her steadfast virtue

Lycidas” (1637)

  • In 1637, he contributed the pastoral elegy “Lycidas” to a memorial collection of elegies for Edward King, Milton’s fellow student at Cambridge.Edward King was a young man of great promise, destined for the church.
  • He had drowned in the Irish Sea
    Classical, Christian and personal elements fuse here.Reflects the uncertainty and torment in Milton’s mind.
  • Realization that death might forestall the achievement of fame, which was his ambition.
  • Finally the realization that true fame is found in heaven.
  • Famous outburst (digression) against the Anglican clergy.

Lycidas”: A Summary

  • Begins with an eloquent statement of the occasion of the poem.Reminiscence of his student days with King described in moving and pastoral terms.
  • Even guardian angels fail to protect their loved ones.
  • Even Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, was unable to protect her son Orpheus from Thracian bacchanals.
  • The poet wonders whether after all it might not have been better to leave the dedicated life of a poet and lead a life of enjoyment.
    Alas! What boots it with incessant care
    To care the homely, slighted shepherd’s trade,
    And strictly meditate the thankless muse?
    Were it not better done, as others use,
    To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
    Or with the tangles of Neaera’s hair”?
    Phoebus answers that fame is the spur, and it is not to be gained on earth but in heaven.
  • The poem moves on to interrogate those who might have been expected to protect Lycidas.
  • The sense of the inevitability of the tragedy dawns, as Cambridge mourns her lost son, and St Peter laments that such a one as Lycidas should have been taken when so many bad shepherds flourish.
  • Nothing can bring back Lycidas, and the poet desperately covers his body with flowers.
  • Then, in a magnificent, patriotic surge of phrase, he calls on the guardian angel of England (probably meaning St Michael) to “look homeward”.
  • The ending offers two consolations: (i) Lycidas is not dead, but has found his place in Heaven, (ii) The poet, who is piping his sad song, knows it is over, and is determined to face the morrow afresh.
  • At last he rose, and twitch’d his mantle blue:
  • “Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastured new.

Milton’s Foreign Tour

  • In 1638, Milton left England for a tour of the continent, primarily Italy, for approximately 15 months.Made friends among Italian intellectuals.
  • Met Galileo in house arrest (Galileo was the only contemporary mentioned by name in Paradise Lost).
  • Learned of the death of his friend Charles Diodati (1638) and of the impending Civil War

Epitaphium Damonis (1639)

Back in England, Milton composed a Latin pastoral elegy for Diodati, Epitaphium Damonis (“Damon’s Epitaph”).This was the last of Milton’s Latin pieces.Strongly indebted to Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid as well as to Neo-Latin poets such as Sannazaro, Castiglione and Mantuan. Corresponds to the English pastoral elegy “Lycidas”.

On Education

  • Became a private schoolmaster and wrote in 1644 a short tract On Education .
  • In the form of a letter to Samuel Hartlib, a scholar and educational reformer.Here he urged the reform of universities.Outlined an ideal curriculum, emphasizing Greek & Latin languages as a means to learn directly classical wisdom .
  • Christian Humanist ideal of education: “to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him” .

Turbulent Marriage

  • In 1643, at the age of 35, he married 16-year-old Mary Powell .
  • A month later, she returned to her parents, and did not come back until 1645.
  • The emotional shock following her desertion provoked Milton to publish four pamphlets arguing for the legality and morality of divorce, starting with The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643).

Licensing Order of 1643

Milton’s controversial views on marriage and divorce naturally provoked opposition from the authorities (mostly of the Parliament, who were now predominantly Presbyterians, and whom Milton had earlier defended) .In order to silence all opposition, the Parliament passed the Licensing Order of 1643 which instituted pre-publishing censorship.
Against this, in 1644, Milton wrote Areopagitica, a classic defence of the freedom of the press.

Areopagitica (1644)
Titled after a speech written by the Athenian orator Isocrates in the 5th century BC. Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and legendary tribunals.Areopagitica is a noble and eloquent plea, optimistic in tone
The entire truth is inaccessible to men after the Fall.A forceful argument against the Licensing Order of 1643.
Such censorship had never been a part of classical Greek and Roman society
Freedom of press is God’s will
Biblical & classical references to strengthen his argument .

Areopagitica: Famous Quotes

For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are.
This means that, like the author, books are also alive.

As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.
This means that it is worse to kill the book than kill the man. Killing a man is like killing God’s image (representation), but killing a book is like killing God, since God is Reason.

For who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty. She needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious – those are the shifts and defences that error uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps, for then she speaks not true. . . Yet it is not impossible that she may have more shapes than one.”
This means that Truth is all powerful and multiple.

When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends, after all which he has done he takes himself to be informed in what he writes, as well as any writ before him.
This means that writing cannot be done easily and carelessly.

Eikonoklastes (1649)

  • In another anti-monarchical tract, Eikonoklastes (1649, meaning “Image Breaker”), Milton shatters the image of Charles I, as described in Eikon Basilike, as pious, contemplative and caring.Milton accuses Charles of hypocrisy; using the example of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in Richard III, he shows how treachery is disguised by the pretense of piety.
  • Exiled Prince Charles (Charles II)’s party replied with a defense written by Claudius Salamasius, leading to a pamphlet war.
  • In this war, the anonymous Latin polemic The Cry of the King’s Blood appeared in 1654.

The Cry of the King’s Blood and Milton’s Reply

  • The Cry of the King’s Blood asserts that Milton’s blindness is God’s punishment.
  • In Second Defence, Milton replied that his blindness is a trial he has to endure for having received special inner illumination, which distinguishes him from others. Here he also compares himself with blind heroes & sages from the past
    This dignity and fortitude with which he accepted his affliction is evident in the sonnet “On His Blindness” also
  • Similarly, in Paradise Regained, Jesus meditates on his father’s purpose for him, and concludes that he must trustfully await its manifestation.

Other Prose Works

  • Three extraordinary prose works were written later in his career
  • History of Britain (1670)
    Reflects extensive reading
    Incomplete; ends with the Norman Conquest.
  • Artis Logicae (1672; “Art of Logic”)
    Composed in Latin
    Inspired by 16th century French scholar Petrus Ramus.
    Examines the impact of Renaissance Humanism on medieval trivium.
  • De Doctrina Christiana (“On Christian Doctrine”)
    Unfinished Latin work
  • Comprehensive and systematic treatment of theology

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