The Influence of Milton

This delight in poetic resourcefulness suggests why eighteenth-century georgic is grafted on the verbal stock of Paradise Lost. Philips's preference for the language of Milton's epic made perfect sense to his contemporaries. For the critic William Benson, who treats Milton as Virgil's English counterpart, the hallmarks of Milton's style coincide precisely with "the principal Excellencies of Virgil's Versification," which display the arts of metrical variation, "varying the pause," verbal patterning, and poetic expressiveness (Benson 1739: 18—38). Further "Virgilian" aspects of Milton's style include its allusiveness, the dignity of its diction, the thematic capaciousness of its long periods, and its use of the verse paragraph as a basic unit of composition [see ch. 25, "Rhyming Couplets and Blank Verse"]. Milton's practice of syntactic inversion achieves something like the freedom of word order in Latin, and his use of enjambment seems specifically indebted to Virgil (Porter 1993: 94). Like Virgil, Milton uses proper names evocatively and draws on knowledge of various occupations in employing "terms of art." Milton's rejection of rhyme not only brings him closer to Latin models, but also carries national connotations: his famous note on the verse of Paradise Lost associates blank verse with British liberty. Most importantly, Milton supplied georgic poets with the materials for a remarkably absorptive poetic idiom, a language designed to draw on a heterogeneous wealth of source material (Latin as well as English) and to achieve an exceptional density of reference within the compass of a coherent, decorous style. Some of these Virgilian-cum-Miltonic qualities are reflected in the section on fabric dyeing in The Fleece, Book II:

For it suffices not, in flow'ry vales,

Only to tend the flock, and shear soft wool:

Gums must be stor'd of Guinea's arid coast;

Mexican woods, and India's bright'ning salts;

Fruits, herbage, sulphurs, minerals, to stain

The fleece prepar'd, which oil-imbibing earth

Of Wooburn blanches, and keen allum-waves

Intenerate. With curious eye observe,

In what variety the tribe of salts,

Gums, ores, and liquors, eye-delighting hues

Produce, abstersive or restringent; how

Steel casts the sable; how pale pewter, fus'd

In fluid spirit'ous, the scarlet dye;

And how each tint is made, or mixt, or chang'd,

By mediums colourless: why is the fume

Of sulphur kind to white and azure hues,

Pernicious else: why no materials yield

Singly their colours, those except that shine

With topaz, sapphire, and cornelian rays:

And why, though nature's face is cloath'd in green,

No green is found to beautify the fleece,

But what repeated toil by mixture gives.

The topic invites gorgeous description and introduces the Virgilian theme of the providential variety of local produce with its associated commerce (cf. Georgics, i. 54-61, ii. 109-24; Spectator, no. 69). Like Virgil and Milton, Dyer perceives "the effectiveness of ranging widely over the earth in examples" (Wilkinson 1969: 67). His mention of West Africa, Mexico, and India as chief sources of dyes and mordants directs the reader's thoughts to the three main continents of the colonial world before attention is drawn to the famous fuller's earth from Woburn in Bedfordshire, thus observing the complementarity of native and exotic materials. The variety of kinds of natural substances (gums, wood, mineral salts, fuller's earth) and their active properties as colorants, astringents, and solvents, as well as their more "poetic" associative qualities of fragrance, color, and texture, are sensuously evoked by mutual contrast, recalling Milton's description of Eden in Paradise Lost, Book IV. Dyer views the chemical industries as proceeding from the plenitude of the natural world, adapting Milton's enumeration of paradisal "herb, tree, fruit, and flower" (Paradise Lost, iv. 644) to include, in line 566, "sulphurs" and "minerals." The georgic Eden — like Milton's, not a purely pastoral location - easily contains the postlapsarian world. The description of dye colors by reference to gemstones brightens the already "paradisal" coloring of the verse. The passage presents a feast for the eye (the Miltonic compound epithet "oil-imbibing," for instance, is visually compelling) as well as the ear: the alliteration is bracing ("steel casts the sable"; "pale pewter"; "fus'd / In fluid"; "made, or mixt"); an enjambed period is drawn to a halt with satisfying gravity in polysyllabic "Intenerate," producing with the ensuing break a rubato effect; and the unusual syntax whereby the object ("eye-delighting hues") is interposed between the subject ("Gums, ores, and liquors") and its qualifying adjectives ("abstersive or restringent") orchestrates a pleasant shock by contrasting the pleasure promised by the colors with the harshness of the mordants.

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  • leonie
    How did milton influence english poetry?
    2 years ago
  • Vera
    How did milton influenced english poetry?
    2 years ago
  • Lisa
    How does john milton influence english poetry?
    2 years ago
  • leonie
    Who was influence John Milton in Indian English poetry?
    1 year ago

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