Paradise Lost, by John Milton

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As he describes St. Bartholomew’s fair in London with negative imagery, the poet echoes a description of hell in Paradise Lost: A universe of death Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things Abominable, unutterable, and worse (PL II.622-6) Wordsworth takes Milton’s repetition of ‘all’ and replicates it with his own anaphora. The technique conveys the ‘blank confusion’ provoked by the sensory overload of urban life. Milton’s hell is associated with a kind of anonymity where all the angels are lost in a confusing crowd, just like Wordsworth’s London. The poets also share their language. Wordsworth reuses ‘perverse’ and ‘monstrous’ and Milton’s ‘universe of death’ (Prel XIII.141) is present in The Prelude as Wordsworth describes his dwindled creativity. These connections demonstrate the way in which Wordsworth discards Milton’s Christian tropes while emulating and secularising other parts of Paradise Lost. His subversion is gentle though, and does not imply a full-scale rebellion. This is even clearer in the treatment of nature in The Prelude and Paradise Lost. Satan says that ‘terror be in love/And beauty’ (PL.IX.490-91). Likewise, Wordsworth often portrays Nature as a beautiful, formidable force: I looked about, and lo! The Moon stood naked in the Heavens, at height Immense above my head, and on the shore I found myself of a huge sea of mist, Which, meek and silent, rested at my feet. A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved All over this still Ocean…(Prel XIII.40-6) Wordsworth captures the awe Nature inspires as he climbs Snowdon. Personifying the moon as standing ‘immense’ above him, he conveys its superiority over mankind. Furthermore,... ... middle of paper ... ...ll extent of their interaction but nevertheless, Wordsworth’s idolisation of Paradise Lost is obvious. The changes made to Miltonic epic in The Prelude are done to update the epic genre for a post-Enlightenment audience - similar to Milton’s Christianisation of the pagan epic. The Prelude’s narrative structure is a perfect example of Milton’s legacy, and confirms that Wordsworth’s emulation and revision originates from an appreciation, rather than an anxiety of, his predecessor. Works Cited • T.S. Eliot, Milton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947) • Lucy Newlyn, Paradise Lost and the Romantic Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) • William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805 text), in William Wordsworth: The Major Works edited by Stephen Gill (Oxford World’s Classics) • John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667, revised 1674), ed. Alastair Fowler (2nd ed. Longman)

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