Dominion Undeserved

Dominion Undeserved: Milton and the Perils of Creation

Eric B. Song
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dominion Undeserved
    Book Description:

    That the writings of John Milton continue to provoke study and analysis centuries after his lifetime speaks no doubt to his literary greatness but also to the many ways in which his art both engaged and transcended the political and theological tensions of his age. In Dominion Undeserved, Eric B. Song offers a brilliant reading of Milton's major writings, finding in them a fundamental impasse that explains their creative power.

    According to Song, a divided view of creation governs Milton's related systems of cosmology, theology, art, and history. For Milton, any coherent entity-a nation, a poem, or even the new world-must be carved out of and guarded against an original unruliness. Despite being sanctioned by God, however, this agonistic mode of creation proves ineffective because it continues to manifest internal rifts that it can never fully overcome. This dilemma is especially pronounced in Milton's later writings, including Paradise Lost, where all forms of creativity must strive against the fact that chaos precedes order and that disruptive forces will continue to reemerge, seemingly without end.

    Song explores the many ways in which Milton transforms an intractable problem into the grounds for incisive commentary and politically charged artistry. This argument brings into focus topics ranging from Milton's recurring allusions to the Eastern Tartars, the way Milton engages with country house poetry and colonialist discourses in Paradise Lost, and the lasting relevance of Anglo-Irish affairs for his late writings. Song concludes with a new reading of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in which he shows how Milton's integration of conflicting elements forms the heart of his literary archive and confers urgency upon his message even as it reaches its future readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6809-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, John Milton found himself estranged from his native country.¹ During these evil days, Milton was briefly imprisoned and in some danger of execution for having passionately defended the beheading of the restored king’s father. Milton’s dire situation occasions a dour etymological joke in his last surviving piece of correspondence, dated August 15, 1666. Milton’s friend Peter Heimbach had praised him in writing for his personal and civic virtues. Milton responds by objecting, “One of those Virtues has not so pleasantly repaid to me the charity of hospitality, however, for the one...

  6. 1 The Strange Fire of the Tartars
    (pp. 17-44)

    Creation begins by expelling chaos. In book 7 of Paradise Lost Raphael describes how

    on the watery calm

    His brooding wings the spirit of God outspread,

    And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth

    Throughout the fl uid mass, but downward purged

    The black tartareous cold infernal dregs

    Adverse to life.


    John Rogers has interpreted these lines within the context of “the contemporary physiology of tartar,” which names “the inassimilable elements purged from the system in the process of digestion.”¹ These dregs are fecal and abject, and must be purged before creation can begin. But “tartareous” also evokes...

  7. 2 Eden, the Country House, and the Indies (East and West)
    (pp. 45-71)

    Eden should have been the happiest of homelands. In the Miltonic universe, however, Eden’s origins may help to explain its rapid loss. God creates Eden in the aftermath of a war that reveals the fissures within his kingdom. In book 6 of Paradise Lost, Raphael narrates the height of the war in Heaven and recalls that “war seemed a civil game / To this uproar; horrid confusion heaped / Upon confusion rose: and now all heav’n / Had gone to wrack” (6.667–70). By inviting the reader to rearrange the words in the phrase “war seemed a civil game,” the...

  8. 3 Paradise Lost and the Question of Ireland
    (pp. 72-110)

    In Paradise Lost, questions about the loss of humanity’s first homeland converge upon questions about Adam and Eve’s unstable union. The answers offered by the poem must be explored in greater detail, not only because their psychological density marks the poem as a key moment in early modernity, but also, as I aim to show in this chapter, because they open onto a profound political meditation. Adam and Eve fall at different times and for different reasons. Any question about Eve’s motives will invariably lead to what William Kerrigan and Gordon Braden cite as perhaps “the most reflective, even philosophical...

  9. 4 Gemelle Liber: Milton’s 1671 Archive
    (pp. 111-151)

    For a reader who knows the entire corpus of Milton’s writings, Paradise Lost’s concluding vision of conjugal love is compromised. In book 9 Adam and Eve consummate the Fall, and the poet likens the couple to the figure of Samson: “So rose the Danite strong / Herculean Samson from the harlot-lap / Of Philistean Dalilah, and waked / Shorn of his strength” (9.1059–62). If Adam and Eve maintain their bond as one flesh after the Fall, that flesh is now likened to that of Samson, whose sexual transgression undoes his heroic valor. By invoking the biblical Delilah, the image...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 152-158)

    Before, during, and after Milton’s quadricentennial in 2009, Milton scholars asked why Milton matters. In a brief essay on the topic, Stanley Fish took to task critics who fail to connect their historicist research to genuinely literary questions of form and genre (which, for Fish, largely equate to questions of authorial intention). Fish identifies a desire on the part of many critics to align Milton’s views with their own political convictions as both source and symptom of misguided scholarship. Fish is right that some historicist scholarship loses sight of the fact that Milton’s literary influence outweighs his contributions to political...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 159-184)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-216)