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For the first three centuries following its initial publication in 1667, John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost was understood by its critics the epitome of stateliness, a poem brimming with grandeur, and above all, the product of a writer certain about his poetic skills and his theodical mission. Joseph Addison, one of the poem's earliest and most influential critics, summarizes this orthodoxy when he wrote that readers find in Paradise Lost "all the Greatness of Plan, Regularity of Design, and masterly Beauties which we discover in Homer and Virgil." In this essay, I directly and indirectly address Addison's argument as well as the other major criticisms of Paradise Lost of the last 350 years. Throughout my argument, I synthesize older criticism of the poem with recent scholarship that seeks to place the poem on a plane of its own, as an entity that extends beyond the intentions Milton had when he began writing the poem in the late 1650s. I have determined that there is indeed a middle ground between the opinions of older scholars and more recent ones: Milton created Paradise Lost as a poem that exists as an uncertain and evolving creation itself, one presented by a narrator who develops as he creates the poem that we read. The unnamed narrator addresses his own act of poetic creation primarily through four invocations that interrupt the primary narrative. I suggest that Milton intended for these invocations to show one character, who is himself an interpreter like the reader, struggling with difficult questions - is God really just? - as he attempts to justify the ways of God to men. This tension within the narrator is resolved only with the poem's conclusion, where Michael offers a vision of the future that promises hope. The Bard's journey then is a model for the reader, one that leads ultimately to the resignation of the poetic and logical enterprise and the acceptance of faith in God.
Moran, Benjamin, ""'More Safe I Sing with Mortal Voice': The Bard, the Reader, and the Problematics of Creation in Paradise Lost"" (2013). Honors Theses. 2278.
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