Milton's Minor Poems

John MILTON (1608 - 1674)

“On Shakespear 1630” typifies much of Milton’s poetry. By some miracle never yet explained, at age 24 he managed to get a 16-line encomium included in the Second Folio of the Bard’s collected works, 1632. Quite a coup! And this brand new M.A., never before published, used this brief poem to contradict Shakespeare’s chief rival, the great Ben Jonson, whose 80-line panegyric had graced the First Folio eleven years earlier. Jonson had said that Shakespeare’s monument was this living book, but Milton says, no, it is rather the readers who, stunned by the poet’s verse, become living statues in his honor.
You will find the same audacity here in the minor poems as in Paradise Lost, which treats of “things unattempted yet in prose of rime.” You can hear it in the college student’s satirical invitation (likely to the classmate next on the program) “Rivers arise . . . ,” a travesty of the epic catalogue of rivers; and in his affectionately irreverent epitaph on Hobson (of “Hobson’s choice”), the stage coach driver for the boys of Cambridge; and again in a second epitaph on the same subject but offering a shameless burlesque of “Metaphysical” conceits. Even in his paraphrase of Psalm VII, where he takes issue with the King James Version on two points of grammar at the end of the second stanza, he is clearly the man who will write “How few somtimes may know, when thousands err.”
Yet for all Milton’s iconoclasm, he knows discipline. Some of the later sonnets undertake topics, express attitudes, and employ metrical devices which, by straining the delicate sonnet form almost—but not quite—to the breaking point, create such power as was never before borne by any sonnet. Such is the power of poetic discipline wedded to poetic genius.
But it is in “Lycidas” that Milton faces the ultimate test of inspiration vs. authority. He piles into the poem every known convention of the pastoral elegy form and even drags in by the heels St. Peter, who, as father of the Church, was a pastor, and these provide the cage within which he must work. Yet he brings them to life with such convincing shifts of sentiment—blaming, wishful thinking, savage resentment, brave facing of the truth, and finally acceptance—that they cease to be confining; sincerity transmutes his cage into his language, sincerity belying artifice. Summary by T. A. Copeland

Genre(s): Single author

Language: English

Section Chapter Reader Time
Play 01 Front Matter 1 (Preface) Thomas A. Copeland
Play 02 Front Matter 2 Thomas A. Copeland
Play 03 On the Morning of Christ's Nativity Thomas A. Copeland
Play 04 The Passion Thomas A. Copeland
Play 05 On Time Thomas A. Copeland
Play 06 Upon the Circumcision Thomas A. Copeland
Play 07 At a Solemn Musick Thomas A. Copeland
Play 08 An Epitaph upon the Marchioness of Winchester Thomas A. Copeland
Play 09 Song, On May Morning Thomas A. Copeland
Play 10 On Shakespear, 1630 Thomas A. Copeland
Play 11 On the University Carrier Thomas A. Copeland
Play 12 Another on the Same Thomas A. Copeland
Play 13 L'Allegro Thomas A. Copeland
Play 14 Il Penseroso Thomas A. Copeland
Play 15 (English) Sonnets, 1645 Thomas A. Copeland
Play 16 Arcades Thomas A. Copeland
Play 17 Lycidas Thomas A. Copeland
Play 18 Introductory to Comus Thomas A. Copeland
Play 19 A Maske (Comus) Thomas A. Copeland
Play 20 Upon the Death of a Fair Infant Thomas A. Copeland
Play 21 At a Vacation Exercise Thomas A. Copeland
Play 22 Miscellaneous Poems Thomas A. Copeland