Friday, March 7, 2008

Milton's Muse

From a very nice hosanna to Milton in the Guardian:

In the second and third personal interventions in Paradise Lost, he talks of how he has fallen on "evil days" and "evil tongues" and is surrounded by dangers, but in spite of this is able to receive his "celestial patroness" or, as he called her, his Christian muse, Urania. She comes to him sometimes early in the morning, sometimes in the night, when she "dictates to me slumb'ring, or inspires / Easy my unpremeditated verse."

The extraordinary claim that he takes his verses as dictation from a celestial being establishes his unshakable belief in himself against the disparagement of his enemies. Singled out from above in this way, he was all the same sensible enough to edit his heavenly Muse. After dictating what she had given him, and he had memorised, to one of the friends or assistants who came to write for him, he set about cutting extensively, and revising. Did he really believe in Urania and her night-time visits? No doubt he believed with one part of his mind. She may have hovered between allegory and symbol, among other inhabitants of his imagination, bright seraphim with angel trumpets, gloomy Dis who ruled the underworld, wood and mountain nymphs, Pan, Apollo and Robin Goodfellow.

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