Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Autobiographical Element in "Paradise Lost" Book-I

Paradise Lost is an epic, and an epic is a work of objective art. As such, there is hardly any scope for the poet to express himself in an epic poem. But Milton was a self-centred individual and so, in spite of the fact that he was writing an epic, his personality expressed itself all through the poem. In fact, he revealed himself in all his works, whether he was writing an ode or an elegy or an epic, or a masque or a drama. Paradise Lost is Milton's greatest work, and as Coleridge rightly points out: "John Milton is in every line of Paradise Lost. "The contrast between Milton and Shakespeare is most striking in this respect, but Shakespeare, as a dramatist, was compelled to remain absolutely impersonal in his plays.

The whole poem is coloured by the personality of Milton. "Milton is in truth the only living being who exists in his own works"–Legouis. "He projects himself, his feelings, knowledge and aspiration into the characters of his epic, both the primitive human creatures and the superhuman beings, whether celestial or infernal."
Self-revelation in "Paradise Lost"
When we turn to a great epic poem like Paradise Lost, however, we demand that the treatment should be just as impersonal as that of the drama. Yet, even here, we find that the whole poem is coloured by the personality of Milton; we see Milton, the Puritan, Milton, the classical scholar, Milton, the hater of autocratic government and kingship, Milton, the despiser of women.
Throughout the poem some passages stand out among the remaining ones not because they particularly aid the story but because they form part of the spiritual autobiography of the poet. It is unlikely that they crept in unconsciously, for their anticipations occur in his earlier utterances in prose or verse. His tirades against the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church, his poor opinion of women, his condemnation of the rosy path of dalliance with particular reference to courtly revelries, and his poignant references to his blindness and solitude.
Milton, the Champion of Popular Liberty
Milton was never a man of half-views or luke-warm loyalties; he was a great lover or a great hater. From the very beginning we see that he was particularly independent in character, and could not fit himself into the discipline of an old established University. Whatever savoured to him of oppression in civil life or in religion was to his dislike. In his own way he was as determined a rebel against constituted authority and as ardent an apostle of liberty as Byron or Shelley. This, unconsciously, he puts into the mouth of Satan, who incongruous though it may appear, reflects a great deal of the ideals and aspirations of Milton. It is in the passage where Satan speaks of the joy of independence, and of the hatred which he bears to the tyranny of Heaven's Ruler, that he reaches the most commanding heights of noble eloquence. The reason for this is obvious, for Milton was the great champion of popular liberty in his own day, and gave up the best years of his life, as well as his eyesight, to the cause of England's fight against oppression. Hence, Milton cannot help imparting to Satan some of his own sentiments and putting him in the position of the champion of liberty against autocratic rulers. The very idea of kingship had become hateful to Milton.
Thus, Satan is a projection of Milton's own self. The greatest character of Paradise Lost, is a projection of Milton's own self. Satan embodies Milton's courage, love of freedom, republicanism and hatred of tyranny. Just as Milton opposed the autocracy of King Charles I and became a stern republican, so also Satan defied the authority of God and rebelled against Him. Again, the defeat of the republican's cause, with which Milton identified himself did not and could not curb his spirit so also the defeat of Satan could not damp his unconquerable spirit of defiance. It seems Milton himself speaks when Satan says:
What though the field be lost
All is not lost; the unconquerable will
And courage never to submit or yield.
…      …         ….        …..
The wonderful eloquence of the council in Hell is an echo from a period of passionate parliamentary life. It cannot be denied that "the debate in Hell would have been lacking in power and verisimilitude if the poet had not lived through the period of the long parliament." Moreover, the war in heaven is the civil war of England, characterized by bitterness of feeling and language peculiar to internal broils.
Milton's Self in Adam
Another part of Milton's self is exhibited in Adam, who is pious, God-fearing and grave, but susceptible to feminine charm. Through Adam, Milton expresses his feelings towards woman. Adam expresses a bitter cry wrung from Milton by the unforgotten miseries of his first marriage. The scene of reconciliation between Adam and Eve is reminiscent of a similar scene between Milton and his first wife.
Style Bears Stamp of Milton's Mind
The style of Paradise Lost bears upon it the unmistakable stamp of Milton's mind. The blank verse of Paradise Lost is something unique in English language. It is the verse of a great poet and a great musical artist. On the one hand, it soars high into the lofty region of imagination and on the other, it possesses a grand music, not to be met with elsewhere in English poetry. His achievements in constructing his new blank verse are unique indeed. He made his verse perfectly suited to his lofty subject-matter. There is no where anything loose or slovenly in his verse. Milton is the greatest and the most conscientious artist in English poetry, every word, every syllable, is weighed in the scales of his artistic judgement and carries maximum weight of meaning and music. Macaulay rightly pointed out that the words used by Milton not only had a weight of meaning as they stood but suggested something more to the mind of a scholar.
The Biblical and classical allusions which abound in Paradise Lost indicate the scholarship and learning of Milton. The style of Milton, unique in itself, has all the stamp of Milton's personality. The word "Miltonic" has acquired a special significance, and is now synonymous with "sublime". It is not only the theme of the poem that lifts the reader to a lofty moral plane, but its style also reaches the highest watermark of grand style in English poetry. Milton's constant use of Latinism in his construction and phraseology is not merely a device to impart grandeur to his style, but it is a necessary mode of his self-expression. Though such Latinisms are alien to the genius of English language, they are a part of Milton's intellectual equipment, and come naturally to a man, whose mind was nourished on the classics as Milton's was.
Unconscious symbolism in "Paradise Lost"
The Cavaliers and High Church party were described as Philistines, Moabites, and Hitties, who were indulging in persecution of God's chosen people. Milton unconsciously adopts some of this attitude of Paradise Lost. He gives a list of all the heathen gods, and the tribes who worshipped them, and identifies the angels who fell from heaven with these gods. This leads him into a detailed account of many of the episodes in the history of the Israelites, and one cannot help feeling that Milton is continually thinking of his own party when he talks about God's chosen people, and of his opponents in politics, church, and the ideal worshippers.
The whole of Paradise Lost is full of autobiographical passages. "His high seriousness, his proud and resolute will, his grave sadness at the folly of mankind are interwoven in the whole of his story". We hear Milton's voice in Satan's cry:
Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable.
Doing or suffering.    
And when Adam cries-
Solitude sometimes is best society,
it seems as if the blind Milton, who, worn out by twenty years of contending voices longs for the relief of silent and lonely thought.
Both the theme and the style of Paradise Lost are expressions of Milton's personality, his thought, his learning, and his moral, political and religious outlook. The theme of 'Paradise Lost' - The Fall of Man - is based on the Bible, and it gives an opportunity to the poet to express his religious sentiment. The figure of Satan is partly an embodiment of Milton's own spirit of freedom, republicanism and stern determination and courage in the teeth of adversity. Satan becomes so heroic and interesting because he posseses in the beginning all the emotional power and sympathy of the poet.
Apart from the revelation of Milton through the characters of Satan and Adam, there are occasional references in Paradise Lost to Milton's blindness. Milton had become totally blind when he wrote Paradise Lost and had fallen upon evil days. The lines describing his misfortune are full of pathos, because they come from the very heart of Milton. Thus the poem is full of passages that recall the life of the poet. The most pathetic and perhaps the most universally admired passages are those where Milton speaks in his own person.
Though it is very difficult to depict the 'personal' in epic. Milton has managed to reflect his personality in his epic, specially in the character of Satan. And in doing so he has made Satan, almost a hero. But the nature of the work has enabled him to introduce the personal element without letting his work degenerate into subjectiveness.

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syed sharjeel said...

very helpfull...
thanks . .

asalam khan said...

great job sir!

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