Milton is a renowned one of the greatest writers in the English language and also a philosopher of world importance. He is best known for Paradise Lost (1667), an epic poem unfolding the Biblical story of humanity’s fall from grace. Along with this work, its sequel Paradise Regained (1671) is celebrated for their skilled artistic ability and pointed reflection of God’s relationship with the human race. In addition to these great works, Milton also wrote “Lycidas,” “Il Penseroso” and “L’Allegro,” a series of sonnets on personal and political themes, as well as a number of fine minor poems. His prose works include Areopagitica (1644) and The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), both influential essays protecting the individual liberty.
The symptoms of failing eyesight did not discouraged Milton, who from an early age read by candlelight until midnight or later, even while experiencing severe headaches. By 1652 he was totally blind. The exact cause is unknown. Up to the Restoration he continued to write in defense of the Protectorate.
While Milton’s impact as a prose writer was insightful but his poetry possesses equal or greater importance. He regarded to his prose works as the achievements of his “left hand.” In 1645 he published his first volume of poetry, Poems of Mr. John Milton, Both English and Latin, much of which was written before he was twenty years old. The volume evident a rising poet, one who has planned his emergence and projected his development in numerous ways: mastery of ancient and modern languages—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian; awareness of various traditions in literature; and avowed inclination toward the vocation of poet.
The poems of Milton from the 1645 edition run the range of various genres: psalm paraphrase, sonnet, canzone, masque, pastoral elegy, verse letter, English ode, epigram, obituary poem, companion poem, and occasional verse. Ranging from religious to political in subject matter, serious to mock-serious in tone, and traditional to innovative in the use of verse forms, the poems in this volume discloses a self-conscious author whose maturation is undertaken with certain models in mind, notably Virgil from classical antiquity and Edmund Spenser in the English Renaissance.
Like the memorable literary lineage with which he invites comparison, Milton used his poetry to address issues of religion and politics, the central concerns also of his prose.
More criticism has been stanched to Milton than to any English author. While celebrated as a poet in his lifetime, Milton was scorned by many contemporaries for his anti-clerical and anti-moralist attitudes, although some noted persons, such as Andrew Marvell, augmented to his defense. Soon after Milton’s death, Paradise Lost began to draw increased attention and praise from critics like John Dryden, who considered Milton as an epic poet comparable in stature to Homer and Virgil.