Characteristics of John Milton’s Poetry

Characteristics of John Milton’s Poetry

Main Characteristics of John Milton’s Poetry

Milton is, after Shakespeare, the greatest English poet. He represents the fourth supreme influence in English poetry, the other three being Chaucer, Shakespeare and Spenser.

  • The two outstanding qualities of Milton as poet are his incomparable sense of beauty and his matchless “statelines of manner”.
  • His sense of beauty is to be seen, to advantage, in his early poems like Lycidas or the Nativity Ode.
  • “These poems have freshness and charm of youth and reveal the lighter and more romantic side of his poetic talent”
  • His stateliness of manner which imparts such a grandeur and dignity to his poetry is evident in his great epic-poem “Paradise Lost.”
  • Milton is great master of the “Grand Style” The adjective “sublime” has been justly applied to his blank verse. He imparted a new grace, a dignity to the blank verse. Shakespeare perfected blank verse as a vehicle or instrument of dramatic expression, Milton perfected as vehicle of or narrative poetry.

Milton developed and perfected blank verse in a variety of ways. For instance-

  1. He made the sense travel from line to line. He perfected the overflow of sense. By doing so he was able to introduce variety into his versification.
  2. He varied the “pause” in the line by shifting it according to the requirements of sense and harmony (music).
  3. He lent it dignity and force by introducing resounding proper names.
  4. His made blank verse more elastic, less monotonous and more musical.
  5. His blank verse is remarkable for the length of “period”.

“The sense is held suspended though many lines, while clause after clause comes in to enrich the meaning or to magnify the descriptive effect-then the period closes, and this suspended weight of meaning falls upon the mind like the combing. For example-

Thus with the year

Seasons returns but not to me returns.

Day, or the sweet approach of ev’n or morn,

Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer, s rose

Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;

Milton’s claim to greatness and immortality rests on his epic “Paradise Lost”, the central theme of which is the fall of Adam from a state of innocence into a state of sin. Written in the most majestic and sublime blank verse this poem is remarkable for the vastness of its theme, the concreteness of his imagery, and the moral seriousness of its purpose. “It aims, in the poet’s own words to justify the ways of God to men.

Milton’s influence on his successors is considerable. Milton influenced Wordsworth, Tennyson and a host of other poets. His “loftiness of thought, splendid dignity of expression, and rhythmic felicities.” exercised a great charm and influence on poets who came after him.

Milton’s Blank verse

Milton perfected the blank verse as vehicle of non-dramatic expression. He rejected the rhymed verse in favour of blank verse.” He regarded rhyme as “the invention of a barbarous age.” He described the use of rhyme as “the invention of a barbarous age.” He described the use of rhyme as a thing of no true musical delight.” According to him true musical delight consisted in “apt numbers (verses), fit (proper) quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another.”

Milton preferred “the overflow from line to line” that is to day, the travelling of sense from one line to the other.

Secondly, Milton made blank verse more musical and elastic by shifting the place of the “pause” in the various lines. He allowed himself perfect, freedom in placing his pause, and in his verse it is to be found after any syllable in the line.

Milton’s blank verse is “sublime” and dignified. He seldom writes a weak line. He has been called the greatest master of the “grand style. “The skill with which he introduces resounding proper names into his verse, has never been surpassed.

Milton’s blank verses is also remarkable for the “length of the period” The sense is held suspended through many lines while clause after clause comes in to enrich the meaning or to magnify the description.

His blank verse possesses the qualities of seriousness solemnity and unbending energy. Commenting on Milton’s blank verse Compton Rickett remarks. “He is extraordinarily fertile in the methods he adotps to avoid monotony. He strengthens blank verse without cramping it; he gives it grace without making it rapid.”

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