POET OF EXILE: A Study of Milton's Poetry by Louis L. Martz

POET OF EXILE: A Study of Milton's Poetry

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A survey that's the sum of its solid, carefully constructed parts--but no more. Martz (Sterling Prof. of English at Yale) admits in his preface that he had already published 300 pages of unconnected commentary on Milton's poetry before finally deciding that, like William Carlos Williams, he ""wanted to write a book."" So he revised all the articles, added another hundred pages. . . but never came up with a central thesis or an organic structure, He starts by plunging abruptly into Comus, then works--or wades--all the way through to Samson Agonistes, scarcely looking up from the text in hand, until suddenly, two paragraphs before the end, he remembers he has to summarize. He doesn't actually focus on Milton the exile, or Milton the heir of Theocritus and Ovid, or Milton the liberal Calvinist--he discusses all of these and more. Which is all right, because Martz brings a sharp eye and immense experience to his readings, and most students of Milton, except for raw beginners and the very advanced, should profit by them. Advanced Miltonists may object to the high percentage of the text (perhaps half) given over to quotations and simple explication. Martz occasionally develops full-scale arguments, e.g., that the key to Paradise Regained is not the omnipotent and therefore undramatic figure of Christ, but ""the movements of the narrating mind as it defines the nature of the Son of God."" That, of course, is one way of getting Milton off the hook for having written a rather static poem, and Martz, like some exegetes, displays considerable ingenuity in defending the weaker parts of the Miltonic canon. He claims that the poet deliberately gave the chorus in Samson Agonistes all sorts of clinkers so as to heighten the grandeur of Samson, whose speeches always soar. Yet, despite such apologetic zeal, he's a reliable critic, clear and unfussy, and anyone interested in Milton could do worse than to take him for a guide.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1980
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press