Milton's Grand Style

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Comment on Milton’s grand style.

John Milton was highly ambitious to be the rival poet of all the classical masters namely – Homer, Virgil, Tasso, Boccaccio, and Dante. With this end in view, he mastered all poetic arts to write his long desired epic poems, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regain. Though he was completely blind at the time of writing these epic poems, his poetic faculty was quite aright. During his prose period, he already achieved necessary learning of poetic style for which his prose style is also highly poetical and it has the poetical sublimity. To speak the truth, Milton excelled almost all the Literary Giants in respect of the sublimity of his language and poetic style. Even his poetical master, Edmund Spenser, lacked the sublimity, grandeur, and variety of style. In general, Milton’s style may be described as almost uniquely literary and intellectual. It is loaded with learning and bookish phrases; elaborate in construction and often alien in vocabulary. It is a perfect medium for the restrained and elevated, yet it is intensely expressive of the passionate personality of the poet.

Paradise Lost is written in blank verse which is the traditional style of writing epic poem. As a learned poet, Milton exploited all devices to make the use of blank verse gorgeous, sonorous, grave, and verbatim. In version of the natural order of words and phrases, parenthesis, an apposition, archaism and Latinism, use of the exotic proper names, unusual compound epithets, use of allusions, myths, legends, history, literature, science, geography, classical and biblical references etc. have gone into making Miltonic verse exceedingly sublime. Rhythm, vocabulary, and imagery have mingled to form the majestic garment of Milton’s thought, imagination, ideas and feelings. Again, Milton used some highly technical terms to add a special grace to his style. References of nautical science, military exploits, sporting, architectural, musical, biological, astronomical, mineralogical, meteorological elements etc. have made Milton’s style complex, difficult, and highly ornamented.

Musicality of Miltonic verse has drawn the attention of his critics. He was a devout puritan and it was quite unlikely with him that he would prefer musical expression. However, it is known to all that Milton had a musical ear and had profound taste for literature, though his poetic career and religious life are predominantly inseparable. In the event of musical expression, Milton went far away from the religious hindrance. Practically the musicality and sonority of his verse arrest the emotion of his readers. The iambic metre that had become almost vulgar and debased by the long use of English dramatists had been brilliantly raised to the height of dignified eloquence and harmony by John Milton. In this context, it may be commendably mentioned here that, despite building up lofty rhyme upon the contemporary popular iambic decasyllable blank verse, there is a considerable movement in every verse paragraph of the poem. For this variety, Milton uses caesura that creates rhythm and pause for sound effect. In his epic poems, we find the majestic use of initial, medial, terminal, masculine, feminine caesuras. For example, let us quote few lines from Book I –

“And all who since, baptiz’d or infidel,
Jousted in Aspramont or Montalban,
Damasco, or Marocco, or Trebisond,
Or whom Biserta sent from Afric shore
When Charlemagne with all his Peerage fell
By Fontarabbia.”

In the above quoted lines we see the use of three middle caesuras. We also get an initial caesura in the third line because the syllable before it is accented.

Milton frequently uses alliteration which has added to his stylistic beauty and increased the force and effectiveness of his verse. Milton also frequently uses asyndeton and poly – asyndeton lines for creating sound effect. That is why it is said, that Miltonic style is always high sounding and...
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