Comus (John Milton)

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Girl and brothers get lost in the woods.  Comus, a debauched man, stumbles upon the girl and tries to seduce her.  She resists him by means of “right reason.”

Notable lines:

“Stoop thy pale visage through an amber cloud,
And disinherit chaos” (334).

A brother makes the suggestion that his sister’s virtue is not in danger while she maintains “the constant mood of her calm thoughts” (371).

Milton rejects the hermeneutics of suspicion:

“Yet where an equall poise of hope and fear
Does arbitrate th’event, my nature is
That I incline to hope, rather then fear,
And gladly banish squint suspicion” (410ff).

Conclusion: The original problem is quite interesting: can virtue and right reason withstand sexual temptation?  That’s not the solution, though.  The solution is appealing to a fairy spirit who can come up with some herb and free the Lady.  Milton’s conclusion doesn’t follow from his problem.

I think there is more to the poem than from what I’ve gleaned.  I probably need to reread the secondary literature.

John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue

Horner, Grant.  John Milton: Classical Learning and the Progress of Virtue. Camp Hill, PA: Classical Academic Press, 2015.

A man of virtue must have discrimination of taste.  You can only get there by being trained in virtue.  Grant Horner walks us through that process by means of the lens of John Milton.

John Milton modeled his education after the Greek “schole” (Horner 13). This type of education, what Russell Kirk would call “humane letters,” implied some degree of the leisure necessary for it.  A good education won’t yield fruit immediately.  It takes time.

Milton saw education as a partial corrective to the Fall (25; see his famous line on “repair the ruins”).  He is not saying that knowing the good means one will do the good (though the Platonic truth in that line is almost always misunderstood). Rather, imitating the good (presumably, at least by immersion in it) is itself an act of transformation and becoming.

Milton urged learning foreign languages by use, not rote memorization of charts.  Yes and no.  You have to have some rudimentary knowledge before jumping into the text.  On the other hand, though, one does make better progress through reading these great texts.  The danger, though, is to avoid what my German and Latin mentor called “taco Spanish.”  That is when you give a student a computer program to learn a language and at the end all he can really say is “taco.”

Milton also assumed you would learn Italian in your spare time, since it wasn’t difficult.

At the heart of his project is a three-fold examination of virtue. We begin with the grace of faith, then we progress in virtue, and we arrive at the perfection of a thing. Virtue is the middle term between grace and perfection.

In practical terms, and in conjunction with his language program that allows the student to view the world through language, the student should be reading heroic literature.  This creates an “admiration of virtue, stirred up with high hopes living to be brave men, worthy Patriots, dear to God, and famous to all ages” (Milton “Of Education”).

The Miltonic goal is to unite intellectual, physical, and spiritual teaching into one unity.

Politically Incorrect Guide to English Literature

Kantor, Elizabeth. The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2006.

While Kantor provides good analyses of Shakespeare and others, the book’s key strengths, like all the books in the P.I.G. series, lie in its structure: books you should read, concepts “they” (e.g., Deep State Marxists) don’t want you to know, etc.

On Shakespeare

“Shakespeare celebrates the limits that define us” (77). Shakespeare, unlike postmoderns, believes in “nature.”

Sonnets.  If we can wax ironic and use postmodern categories, the Sonnets are the dark “Other” to the comedies. Sex is very dangerous when handled outside of its proper boundaries. Some notes on the structure: In Italian sonnets there is a “turn” between the octave and sestet.

The Seventeenth Century

John Donne.  

John Milton. “Temptation is the theme of Milton’s poetry” (93).  “Milton’s heroic ideal” is patient obedience

2oth Century, including American Literature

Good section on Oscar Wilde and his decadent friends.  “Aestheticism” meant art for art’s sake; there is no outside meaning.  If we apply this to ourselves, and see our life as art, then we don’t have meaning, either.  

Kantor captured the essence of the South perfectly.  You can’t escape original sin by programs and agendas and trying to be Woke.  Similarly, a flawed culture like the South is superior to no culture at all. With that said, I normally dislike stories by O’Connor and Faulkner.  I just can’t take Steam-of-Consciousness seriously. 

Do it Yourself

Reed’s Rule.  When reading a poem, sometimes ask yourself, “Why is this word, and no other, in this place, and no other place” (218)? 

It is more important to know terms like “Iambic pentameter,” “epic simile,” and Spenserian stanza, not “binaries,” “reception history,” and “imaginary” (as a noun) (222).

Books They Don’t Want You To Read

Lewis, C. S. Allegory of Love.
Stark, Rodney. Victory of Reason.
Pearce, Joseph. The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde.
Kimball, Roger. Tenured Radicals.
Horowitz, David. The Professors.

At War with the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education , by R. V. Young, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1999.
Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities , by John M. Ellis, Yale University Press, 1999.
The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, Harper SanFrancisco, 2001.
A Student’s Guide to Literature , by R. V. Young, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language by Miriam Joseph Rauh, Paul Dry, 2002.

Books You Shouldn’t Miss

Medieval Literature

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales.

Langland, Piers Plowman

Gawain and the Green Knight

Malory, Morte d’Arthur

Renaissance Literature

Spenser, Edmund. Faerie Queene.

Sidney, Philip. Defense of Poesy.

Shakespeare, everything.

Seventeenth Century

John Donne, Songs and Sonnets, Holy Sonnets

Herbert, George. The Temple

Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost.

Restoration and Eighteenth Century

Dryden, John.  Absalom and Achitophel

Pope, Alexander. Rape of the Lock

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s travels.

Johnson, Samuel. Preface to Shakespeare

A Mini Course in American Literature

While American literature can never compete with English literature, she does offer a good course in it.  Read the following:

O’Connor: “Everything that Rises Must Converge”

Faulkner: “Barn Burning”
Poe: “Cask of Amontillado”
Hemingway: “Big Two-Hearted River”
Hawthorne: “Young Goodman Brown”
Dickinson: “The Soul Selects Her Own Society”
Whitman: “A Noiseless Patient Spider”
Frost: “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
Pound: “In Station of the Metro”

Samson Agonistes (John Milton)

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In terms of polished writing this is much better than Paradise Lost.  PL forces the reader to drink from a fire hydrant, as it were.  Milton gives you the pure essence of language and never lets up.  SA has the same polished style but it isn’t as intense. It’s not as grand, either.  We are dealing with a pure tragic hero, leaving aside the question of whether Milton intended Satan to be read as such.

He deliberately models Samson after the tragedies.  He takes some liberties but not as many as one would expect.  Delilah’s name is pronounced “Dolly-lah,” presumably for rhythmic purposes.

To his credit, Milton, following the Bible and contrary to legalist, prudish commentators, has Samson say that his first marriage to a Philistine was God’s doing.  How many times do you hear do-gooders attack Samson for marrying a pagan? That’s not what the Bible says.

Unfortunately, he tells the story as Samson marrying Delilah, which the Bible never states.  I think I know why Milton did this: he might be reading his own failed marriage over this template. 

Paradise Lost (John Milton)

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I understand why most consider Milton to be difficult reading.  To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “You have to drink all of the epic simultaneously.”  Milton rarely lets you up for air. It occasionally pays off, though, for Milton can ascend to the highest literary planes. You can’t stay at that pace the whole time, though.  Our mortal coil cannot take large amounts of pure beams of light.

Meaning no disrespect to Milton, this work is fan fiction.  It just is. It’s marvelous fan fiction, but still. Milton apparently went beyond even the Apocrypha and drew upon hermetic sources. While interesting, this gets him in trouble as many of his claims are simply wrong.  More on that later.

Wonderful Literary Passages

Goal of the book: assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to men (I:25).

* The description of Pandaemonium is one of those top ten moments of the English language (“Stygian council,” “hollow abyss,” .

*  “the reign of Chaos and old Night” (1:543; III:18).

*  “Of waters issued from a cave and spread/Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved/Pure as th’ expanse of heav’n” (IV: 454).

* Like the other great English poet Alexander Pope, Milton affirmed the chain of being, noting that “scale of nature set” (V:508) to which animals aspire to the angelic heights.

* “Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers/Hear my decree, which unrevoked shall stand” (V:601).

The Nature of God

Eternal: “wherein past, present, future he beholds” (III:78).  God’s foreknowledge does not cause man’s actions (III:118). From God “all things proceed, and up to him return” (V:469).

If you hold to the Boethian/Platonic view of time, you will enjoy Milton’s take: “For time, though in eternity, applied/To motion, measures all things durable/By past, present, and future” (V:580).

Man’s Free Will

Unfallen Adam was “sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (III:99).

Marriage: Pure and Conjugal

Milton represented the Puritan view of marriage and sex, which was infinitely superior than the Gnosticism that had crept into the church. He writes of Eve, “Yielded with coy submission, modest pride/And sweet reluctant amorous delay” (IV: 310). It was said by someone that the devil will try to get you into bed before your married and keep you out of it afterwards.  Milton would agree. He writes, “With kisses pure: aside the Devil turned/For envy, yet with jealous leer malign/Eyed them askance” (IV: 503; also see line 750).

Indeed, our conjugal love is that by “which perhaps no bliss enjoyed by us excites his [Satan’s] envy more” (IX: 263).  Nonetheless, Milton is aware of the dark path sexuality, even married sexuality, can take. Even in marriage it is possible, so argues Milton, to use the spouse as an object of lust.  Milton starkly notes this between Adam and Eve after the Fall: “Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve/Began to cast lascivious eyes, she him/As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn” (IX: 1013)