Eagleton on Milton's B-Day

A couple days ago — on December 9, to be precise — John Milton turned 400. Terry Eagleton wrote a little homage for The Guardian to honor Milton — and more specifically the radical poet’s political engagement. Below, the opening paragraphs. You can read the full article here.

Milton’s republic

Our great dissident poet, born 400 years ago today, did more than just hymn the praises of revolt

Most poetry in the modern age has retreated to the private sphere, turning its back on the political realm. The two intersect only in such absurd anomalies as the poet laureateship. But whereas Andrew Motion does his bit to keep the monarchy in business, one of the greatest of English poets played his part in subverting it. John Milton, who was born in Cheapside 400 years ago today, published a political tract two weeks after the beheading of Charles I, arguing that all sovereignty lay with the people, who could depose and even execute a monarch if he betrayed their trust.

We are not used to such revolutionary sentiments in our poets. When he left Cambridge, Milton refused to take holy orders and, in his first great poem Lycidas, he mounted a blistering assault on the corruption of the clergy. He was a champion of Puritanism at a time when that meant rejecting a church in cahoots with a brutally authoritarian state.

(Visited 47 times, 1 visits today)

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    You fail to mention that Milton was thick as thieves with Oliver Cromwell, serving in the theocratic Protectorate, and that the Puritanical morality laws during the Interregnum were far more regressive, more intrusive, than under the Stuarts. Puritans themselves were not proto-liberals, far from it. Then, of course, there is the genocide in Ireland undertaken by Cromwell that Milton believed was a necessary part of the Puritanical purge of “popery.”

  2. Mr. J. Cook says:

    I am not anonymous. I say Amen to "anonymous" & urge her or him to add name to wise dissent. Milton was indeed thick as thieves with O. Cromwell and the Irish genocide. These matters are complex in the rearview mirror but to advance Milton as a revolutionary hero — in the leftist sense that you, Pierre, in the context of this blog seem to intend — is naive at best. Milton was not proto-liberal though certainly a dissenter.

    Let's not take Milton for more (or less) than he was. & let us take his writing for what it is — both in its context & for what it says to us now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *