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Posts Tagged ‘Paradise Lost

“No light, but rather darkness visible”*…

 

Satan John-Martins-illustrations-for-643_m_18_facing_p37-edit

Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council (Book II, line 1), from John Martin’s epic set of illustrations for Paradise Lost, 1827

 

I begin with sound. I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but also with my mouth. I was lucky enough to study Books I and II for A level many years ago, and to do so in a small class whose teacher, Miss Enid Jones, had the clear-eyed and old-fashioned idea that we would get a good sense of the poem if, before we did anything else to it, we read it aloud. So we took it in turns, in that sixth-form classroom in Ysgol Ardudwy, on the flat land below the Harlech Castle, to stumble and mutter and gabble our way through it all, while Miss Jones sat with arms comfortably folded on her desk, patiently helping us with pronunciation, but not encumbering us with meaning…

The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realise that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning and that part only comes alive when you speak it. So at this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t fully understand everything: you’re already far closer to the poem than someone who sits there in silence looking up meanings and references and making assiduous notes…

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been many things to many people — a Christian epic, a comment on the English Civil War, the epitome of poetic ambiguity — but it is first of all a pleasure to read.  Drawing on sources as varied as Wordsworth, Hitchcock, and Conan Doyle, author Philip Pullman (the author of many wonderful volumes, but most relevantly here, the His Dark Materials [Golden Compass] trilogy and the Book of Dust novels currently underway) considers the sonic beauty and expert storytelling of Milton’s masterpiece, and the shaping influence it has had on his own work: “The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.

* Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1

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As we contemplate the celestial, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol— a novella he’d written over the prior six weeks– was formally published; it had been released to book stores and the public two days later.  The first run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve, and the book continued to sell well through twenty-four editions in its original form.

Cover of the first edition

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Written by LW

December 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”*…

 

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

 

Jonathan Basile, a Brooklyn author and Borgesian Man of the Book, taught himself programming so that he could recreate Borges’ Universal Library [the Library of Babel, which “contained all books”] as a website. The results are confounding. A true site-as-labyrinth, Basile’s creation is an attempt to write and publish every story conceivable (and inconceivable) to man. In the process, Basile encountered new philosophical conundrums, French rappers, and unheard-of porno search strings. The possibilities, after all, are endless…

Browse the Universal Library here; read more of Basile’s prodigious project here.

* Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” [“La Biblioteca de Babel”]

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As we renew our Library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that John Milton sold the rights to Paradise Lost to printer/publisher Samuel Simmons for £10.  Milton, who’s worked for Cromwell, was on the outs in those early days of the Restoration.  (Indeed, Simmons kept his name off the title page [below], naming only his sellers.)

That original edition was structured into 10 sections (“books”).  Milton revised his work and reordered it into 12 books, the form we know today; it was published in the year of his death, 1674.  While his motive may well have been, as some critics have suggested, to emulate the structure of Virgil’s Aeneid, a second payday probably also figured in.

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Written by LW

April 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

Speculative biography…

 

At his wonderful site, The Fertile Fact— a literary website that treats famous authors and artists like fictional characters– Rhys Griffiths invites biographers/experts/super-fans to draw on their knowledge and compile a list of five things or aspects of modern life that they think their biographee, were they writing today, might have liked, loathed or otherwise been opinionated. The more far-fetched, the better.

Check out Joan Schenkar on Patricia Highsmith, Robert Zaretsky on Albert Camus, Nicholas Murray on Franz Kafka, and 20 more time travelers (so far) at The Fertile Fact.

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As we wonder how we’d have done in Conan Doyle‘s time or Camus‘, we might send stern birthday greetings to John Milton; he was born on this date in 1608.  A poet (Paradise Lost), polemicist (the Areopagitica), not-so-successful playwright (Comus), and Roundhead civil servant (he had a Secretarial appointment in Cromwell’s Commonwealth), Milton would surely have disapproved of much– if not most– in our modern life.

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Written by LW

December 9, 2013 at 1:01 am

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