John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth (republic) of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. Milton's poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day.
Bread Street, Cheapside, London
Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, into a middle-class family. He was educated at St. Paul's School, then at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he began to write poetry in Latin, Italian, and English and prepared to enter the clergy. After university, however, he abandoned his plans to join the priesthood and spent the next six years in his father's country home in Buckinghamshire, reading extensively in the classics and writingOn the Morning of Christ's Nativity (1629), On Shakespeare (1630), L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (1631), and Lycidas (1637). Milton traveled in France and Italy during this time and met Galileo Galilei, who appears in Milton's tract against censorship, Areopagitica. In 1642, he married Mary Powell; even though they were estranged for most of their marriage, she bore him three daughters and a son before her death in 1652.
During the English Civil War, Milton championed the cause of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell, writing a series of pamphlets on divorce, the freedom of the press, and support for the regicides. He also served as secretary for foreign languages in Cromwell's government. During this time, Milton was steadily losing his eyesight, going completely blind in 1651, but he continued his duties with the aid of Andrew Marvell and other assistants. After the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Milton was arrested as a defender of the Commonwealth, fined, and soon released. He lived the rest of his life in seclusion in the country, completing the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) and writing Paradise Regained (1671) and Samson Agonistes (1671).
Paradise Lost, which chronicles the fall of Adam and his expulsion from Eden, is widely regarded as his masterpiece and one of the greatest epic poems in world literature. The poem had wide-reaching effect, inspiring Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock and John Keats' Endymion and deeply influencing Percy Shelley and William Blake. Milton died on November 8, 1674, in Buckinghamshire, England.
Works by John Milton
Paradise Lost is widely regarded as the greatest English-language poem of all time. Published in 1667, the epic is written in 12 sections of blank verse. Milton was blind when he wrote the majority of the poem, and transcribed it to his daughters. The poem is a fascinating look at the characters of the Garden of Eden. Adam, Eve, God, and Satan engage in a struggle, much like they do in the Hebrew Bible. Milton claimed his purpose in writing was to "justify the ways of God to men" and to reconcile what he saw as a gap between the free will of humans and God's omniscience. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the poem, and one profitable for long-time Christians to observe, is the fact that Adam and Eve have personalities. Milton adds several books worth of narrative about their sinless life in the garden pre-Fall, and readers catch a glimpse of their emotions - pleasure, temptation, guilt, and lust. Paradise Lost is a valuable work of literature, particularly for Christians as it addresses the age-old battle of whether free will exists for created humans. Though the poetry is challenging to read (Milton intended it to be so), those who wade their way through the tale will come away with a fresh perspective on the classic story of Eden.
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