AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ELEMENTS IN PARADISE LOST
“Of all the English poets, Milton is the most autobiographical.”
Milton is a distinguished and a renowned poet in English literature. It is he who invigorated epic style, grand style and blank verse and enlivened English literature through his inspiring verses. Milton’s poetry has another speciality and that speciality is use of Milton’s character and personality in his poetry. Consciously or unconsciously, he tries to reveal himself in almost every line or every word he writes. Legouis says, “Milton is in truth the only living being who exists in his own works.”
Except two master-pieces Allegro and Pensoroso, almost all his works offer us a glimpse of one or the other aspect of his life. In “Samson Agonist,” great similarity occurs between Samson’s career and that of Milton. Similarly, “Comus”, “Masque”, “On His Blindness” and “The Late Espound Saint” are also true reflection of his life.
In so far as Paradise Lost is concerned, an epic is expected to be treated in impersonal way but it is not true in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Coleridge says: “John Milton is in every line of Paradise Lost.” Here, he is in complete contrast with Shakespeare who is the most dramatic. Shakespeare avoids the projection of his personality in his literary works and lets his characters disclose their ideas, feelings and views. On the other hand, Milton displays his ideas, feelings and views through his characters. Paradise Lost is equally autobiographical. Let’s discuss all the autobiographical elements in Paradise Lost.
First, like Byron and Shelley Milton was ‘a lover and pioneer supporter of liberty and Republicanism.’ Milton showed resentment and dissatisfaction to the king Charles and advocated the cause of rebels against the king. This aspect of Milton’s personality is projected in Satan’s personality. Satan is also a rebel and leader of the fallen angels. He rebels against the code established by God. Satan’s speeches speak of Milton’s love of liberty.
“What though the field be lost?
All is not lost: the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.”
All the following sentiments expressed by Satan are Milton’s own sentiments.
- The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
- “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”
Second touch of autobiographical element can be observed in the following lines. We know that Milton was blind. In the following lines, he has given a touch to his blindness. “What in me is dark, illumine.”
Third, after Restoration Milton fell on evil times. How could Milton as an autobiographer avoid discussing it? He discussed this miserable situation and period of trials of his life in Book-3 of the Paradise Lost.
“Though fallen on evil days,
On evil days though fallen.”
Fourth, Adam is also symbol of kindness and affection. He is God-fearing and susceptible to feminine charm. Milton had also the same qualities and natural indignation against womanhood. The most passionate and hateful opinion against womankind can easily be seen in Book-10.
“Oh, why did God,
Creator wise, that peopled highest Heaven,
With spirits masculine.”
Fifth, it was a time when Milton and his wife had reconciliation with each other. In Paradise Lost, same type of reconciliation can be witnessed in the reconciliation between Adam and Eve.
Sixthly, Milton was a Puritan and had great love for classics. Both these passions go side by side in his life. The theme of the “Paradise Lost” is based on the Bible. We can say that it was Milton’s Puritanism which forced him to select the theme of “The Fall of Man.”
Seventh, Milton was proud, highly serious and a man of resolute will. He was greatly dejected at the follies of mankind. All these facts of Milton’s life have been given a special touch by Milton. We can see Satan as a spokesman of Milton in these lines.
“Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable
Doing or suffering.”
To sum up, the Paradise Lost is replete with the touches from Milton’s life. Not only the Paradise Lost is full of touches from his personality, but also the other poetic works of Milton except two or three works. We fully agree with the remarks of Tillyard: “Milton is perhaps the only man who has translated the mental urge into literature and not into action.” (Words: 744)