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The Miltonic Moment

The Miltonic Moment

J. Martin Evans
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 176
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    The Miltonic Moment
    Book Description:

    Milton's poems invariably depict the decisive instant in a story, a moment of crisis that takes place just before the action undergoes a dramatic change of course. Such instants look backward to a past that is about to be superseded or repudiated and forward, at the same time, to a future that will immediately begin to unfold. Martin Evans identifies this moment of transition as "the Miltonic Moment."

    This provocative new study focuses primarily on three of Milton's best known early poems: "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," "A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle (Comus)," and "Lycidas." These texts share a distinctive perceptual and cognitive structure, which Evans defines as characteristically Miltonic, embracing a single moment that is both ending and beginning.

    The poems communicate a profound sense of intermediacy because they seem to take place between the boundaries that separate events. The works illuniated here, which also includeSamson AgonistesandParadise Regained, are all about transition from one form to another: from paganism to Christianity, from youthful inexperience to moral maturity, and from pastoral retirement to heroic engagement. This transformation is often ideological as well as historical or biographical.

    Evans shows that the moment of transition is characteristic of all Milton's poetry, and he proposes a new way of reading one of the seminal writers of the seventeenth century. Evans concludes that the narrative reversals in Milton's poetry suggest his constant attempts to bring about an intellectual revolution that, at a time of religious and political change in England, would transform an age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4754-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction: The Miltonic Moment
    (pp. 1-10)

    “The most significant thing in all his work,” Ruskin once wrote of Giotto, “is his choice of moments.” Faced with the task of illustrating the life of any Christian figure, the painter always singled out the “decisive instant” in the story, the turning point of the entire narrative. In his fresco of St. Francis’s trial by fire on the wall of the Bardi Chapel in Santa Croce, Florence, for instance, Giotto focused on the moment at which the Sultan is actually in the process of abandoning paganism for Christianity. The saint stands on the very brink of the flames, but...

  6. 1 The Poetry of Absence
    (pp. 11-38)

    In an influential article published in 1940, Arthur E. Barker argued that theNativity Oderecords an experience in Milton’s life “which corresponds to the conversion of his Puritan associates.”¹ Amplifying on Barker’s point, A.S.P. Woodhouse claimed two years later that “taken together, theNativity OdeandHow Soon Hath Timegive evidence of an experience that stands to Milton in place of what the Puritans called conversion.”² Despite Rosemond Tuve’s cautions against “over-personal” readings of the poem, this view of theOdeas “the testimony of Milton’s religious experience” has gained wide currency in more recent critical discussions.³ According...

  7. 2 Virtue and Virginity
    (pp. 39-70)

    During the course of some good-natured fun at the expense of critics who overinterpretComus,Robert M. Adams offers a rebuttal of the notion that the magical herb the brothers receive from the Attendant Spirit to ward off Comus’s enchantments might symbolize the operation of divine grace. “If haemony is grace,” Adams objects, “there is a gross, immediate breach of tact in Thyrsis’ declaration that in this country it is: ‘Unknown, and like esteem’d, and the dull swayn Treads on it dayly with his clouted shoon’ (634-35). An audience of country gentle folk would scarcely have been edified by this...

  8. 3 The Road from Horton
    (pp. 71-116)

    When he wroteLycidasin 1637 Milton was almost twentynine years old. For the past five years he had been living with his parents, first in Hammersmith and later in the rural village of Horton. Deeply committed to the ideals of studious retirement and sexual abstinence, he was unmarried, unemployed, and relatively unknown. His chief ambition was to be a great poet. During the five years following the composition ofLycidashe traveled extensively in France and Italy, took up residence in London, married Mary Powell, and established himself as one of the principal public champions of the Puritan and...

  9. Conclusion: The Poetics of Redemption
    (pp. 117-132)

    More than thirty years after the composition ofLycidas,when the fresh woods and pastures new had become a barren wilderness of shattered hopes and failed ambitions, Milton returned once again to the central issue that had animated his elegy for Edward King: the nature of the virtuous life. He had already produced inParadise Losta devastating critique of misdirected revolutionary activ ism. To counterbalance that portrayal of false heroism, he now felt compelled to offer one or more positive models of virtuous conduct. He based them, I want to suggest in conclusion, on the very same ideas and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 133-152)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 153-166)
  12. Index
    (pp. 167-175)