A. Lavretsky (Iosif Moiseevich Frenkel) 1934

Milton’s style

Author: A. Lavretsky (Iosif Moiseevich Frenkel);
Written: 1934;
First published: 1934 in Literary Encyclopedia, Volume 7, pp. 314-316;
Source: http://niv.ru/doc/dictionary/literary-encyclopedia/articles/189/milton.htm
Translated by: Anton P.

Milton’s style developed based on elements of Renaissance literature – Italian (Petrarch, Tasso), English (Spencer, Ben-Johnson) and the Reformation with its cult of the Bible and its ideas about biblical heroes. Renaissance poets taught Milton the art of allusion, allegory, the ability to evoke the moods the poet needs. The Italian pastoral inspired him with idyllic motifs.

If in the first period of the poetic creativity of Milton the elements of the Renaissance are dominant, then in the second period, when his famous poems were created, the elements of the Bible prevail, in relation to which the first occupy a subordinate place. Still, the place is very significant. The art of allusion, symbolization, mood is widely used in Paradise Lost and Regained, already because of the very specific nature of Protestant poetry and the peculiarities of its tasks.

If Dante, following the trends and traditions of Catholicism, seeks to give the other world a sensual form, to arrange it according to a precisely measured plan, then Milton wants to express the supersensible, evoke in the reader a feeling of a different, mysterious world and thereby create a special mood. The realistic plasticity of Dante does not correspond to this goal. The impression of the mysteriousness of the supernatural world, its incommensurability with the earthly one is achieved by dark allegory, indefinite hyperbolism as a way of depicting the immaterial, not knowing the boundaries of definitely outlined forms. So for example. Satan in Milton is like a leviathan, whom the navigator takes for an island. Milton’s hell is not built according to a plan determined by the exact gradation of torments; he is lost in a fog that hides all limits.

Milton does not know Dante’s “linear” style also because he depicts not what has become, but what is becoming, not created, but being created. Dante reflected in his poem the already essentially completed life of the feudal Catholic Middle Ages, Milton reflected the formation of a new world, capitalism. And it is characteristic that his poetic thought gravitates towards the themes of the creation of a new world out of chaos – creation, which for a true revolutionary is a revolution. The idea of ​​becoming is given by metaphors expressing all its uncertainty and variability. Another component of the poem – the idyll of the “first people” – Adam and Eve – would be unthinkable without the Italian pastoral.

So Milton forced the means of secular poetry of the Renaissance to serve the goals of the spiritual poetry of Puritanism, showing an example of independent creative use of alien literary heritage.

In its plot, Paradise Lost is a religious-heroic poem, in which the idyllic element is subordinated to the element of battle painting. Milton makes extensive use of the battle elements of the Bible, but in order to adapt the plot to new content, Milton often has to interpret the Bible as a hint to be interpreted independently. Here, too, Milton remained an independent, interpreting the word of the Lord at his own peril and risk. The desire to contain the enormous ideological content of the English revolution with all the struggle of ideas of that time both dramatizes the poem and makes it didactic. Oratorical pathos is widely used. The biblical tradition, according to which Satan, so ennobled by Milton, should be condemned, would be in danger of complete perversion, if the aging poet’s disappointment in the ways of the revolution, his dream of a “spiritual” revolution, as more real, was not reflected in the psychology of Satan.

Like Lord Protector Cromwell, the desire for freedom coexisted in Satan with the desire for power, and this makes him a demonic being, which must fall. This construction of the image achieves two goals – artistic and political: the discrepancy between the new content and the old plot of the poem is weakened; receives its assessment of what Milton saw the reasons for the defeat of the revolution.