Religious Rite and Ceremony in Milton's Poetry

Religious Rite and Ceremony in Milton's Poetry

Thomas B. Stroup
Copyright Date: 1968
Pages: 96
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  • Book Info
    Religious Rite and Ceremony in Milton's Poetry
    Book Description:

    Milton, the arch-Puritan and outspoken critic of the stereotyped rituals of the established churches, has been regarded by most scholars as a writer who is unlikely to have employed liturgical materials in his poetry. Thomas B. Stroup shows to the contrary that Milton made extensive use of Christian liturgy not only as material within the body of his poems but also as a force in shaping them.

    In a survey of both Milton's major works and his minor poems, prayers of thanksgiving, the General Confession, similarities to hymns, echoes from canticles, and many other rites and ceremonies of the church are noted. But what is even more significant is the way in which these liturgical forms are used by the poet, for their appearance is not incidental to the works but contributes to their structural development. The reflections of the rites and ceremonies and the allusions to them seem to have been chosen deliberately as a means of heightening the poems' action and deepening their meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6445-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-5)

    IN HISnow-famous lecture upon Milton, T. S. Eliot in 1947 advised contemporary poets to study Milton “as, outside the theatre, the greatest master in our language of freedom within form.”¹ Although the words “freedom within form” seem in this context to be restricted to technical matters of verse and verse forms and the advice to poets, the “freedom” might have been equally well extended to materials and doctrines, and the advice to critics and commentators. For with Milton, form was always handmaiden to substance. Critic of custom of any kind and advocate of the new liberties of his age...

    (pp. 6-14)

    MILTON’Sshorter poems show numerous instances of liturgical influence. In the Nativity Ode, for example, the twofold expression of sacred rite is apparent. The gift of the hymn to the heaven-born child comes from one whose lips have been touched with sacred fire from off Isaiah’s altar.¹ He speaks as priest and prophet, and his gift of words becomes a sacred ceremony transcending time; he joins his voice to the angel choir to sing with them the most joyous of all canticles, theGloria in excelsis. Stanzas IX through XIV, most expressive of the theme of the poem, are an...

    (pp. 15-47)

    MILTON’Sadaptations and modifications of literary forms and genres inParadise Lostare so varied and so well done that one may not at first recognize them as such. The poem is first and obviously a classical epic, though much modified; the basic form and materials are here, but greatly enriched, and extended far beyond the limits of such an epic as Virgil wrote. In his emulation of precedent, as Coleridge observed, Milton expanded and improved it.¹ Among other kinds, the poem is, though not so obviously, also a Christian religious epic, a Biblical commentary, a homily, and, if we...

    (pp. 48-54)

    THE SECONDARY title ofParadise Regainedmight have beenEcce Homo. If the Son came into the world and the world knew Him not, it is only fair to say, if we accept Milton’s account, that He knew not Himself—not until after the baptism and the temptation. He had got inklings, of course, from inner promptings and his mother’s words—the Annunciation and theMagnificat, the Gloria in excelsis, theNunc dimittisof Simeon—but no public expression from on high or testings for proof on earth. The poem is a study in self-recognition and in manifestation; it is...

    (pp. 55-62)

    UNLIKE Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistescontains no perfect man who needs only to discover his true nature. Although it, too, involves self-discovery, Samson’s life on his last day follows something approaching a rite generally analogous to a Christian liturgy. It moves from the agony of despair to acknowledgment and confession of sin, from confession through the tests of the temptations (interpolations which might be considered as penance) to wisdom and absolution, and from these to the moving of the Holy Spirit which leads to the final sacrifice and salvation. The play deals with the theme of regeneration, and the pattern...

    (pp. 63-68)

    NO ONEwill maintain that Milton was a writer of formal liturgies or a builder of rites and ceremonies for church use. His larger forms are basically secular, deriving from classical and Renaissance genres. Even with them he varies his patterns from the orthodox: he would be master of form, not its servant. Furthermore, he often expressed his scorn for rites and liturgies as becoming outworn and incapable of expressing the true and immediate thoughts and feelings of their speakers. They tend to become mere form without substance. Yet the occasions for rites and ceremony exist repeatedly. They spring unpremeditated...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 69-80)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 81-83)