Saturday, July 9, 2016

Something Heavy

Decided to travel light since I'm only staying the one night here in Melaka, so brought along just the one book to read. The tome in question is Milton's Selected Poetry and Prose in the Norton Critical Edition, and I'd recommend it for all fans of the great epic poet - though it doesn't actually contain the great epic itself, which comes in its own Norton Critical Edition of Paradise Lost. Fortunately the Selected has got everything else you really need in it with very helpful notes, strategically placed to instantly assist the slow-minded reader like myself. (Must say, I'm seriously thinking of acquiring Milton's lost paradise in this edition, but feel a bit guilty since I've already got several versions of it.)

Over the last few days I've been reacquainting myself with Samson Agonistes and I must say it just gets better with every reading - despite the fact that it seems to get a bit of a bad press from some critics. Yes, it's not as gloriously lush as Paradise Lost, but its sparse astringency seems to me a virtue in itself; it's so wonderfully concentrated. Mind you I think Prof John Carey has got a genuine point when he calls it a work in praise of terrorism and suggests it should be banned in the wake of 9/11 (in an essay that appears amongst the critical essays offered with several others as part of the Selected. Good value, eh?) It's a work designed to bother and unsettle and provoke. I think part of Milton identifies with the tragically destructive Samson, and part of him knows this is a very dangerous chap.

Must say, I remain puzzled by the controversy over the dating of the piece. As far as I can gather there's a case made for it being fairly early Milton - circa the early 1650s, but it seems so obviously of the 1660s to me, with blind Milton's republican dreams crushed and humiliation fallen upon him that I just can't read it in any other way. Goodness me, how stupid my countrymen were to bring back the monarchy!

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