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Reading “Paradise Lost”

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime. (i, 1-16)

Milton’s Paradise Lost, written around 40 years after the death of Shakespeare, is undoubtedly one of the literature’s greatest achievements. The first verse alone is a perfect example of his contribution to the English language. He uses everything to tell the story: syntax (order of words), rhythm, sound, imagery and adjectives set the scene, and the rest of the poem continues with this incredible richness. Milton doesn’t create lines of poetry: he grows fields, trees, forests of words that the reader darts in and out of.

It is told in blank verse, in twelve books, and its exuberant imagery, lengthy suspended sentences and distinctive sound-patterning can be attributed to the fact that the poem was composed after Milton went blind.

I find it easier to read out loud and keep reading if I stumble upon something that is not immediately understandable. The artistry of lines and richness of sound and composition are far greater than the story itself.

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