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Milton's Faith and Use of Literary Devices
Many of John Milton's poetry contain religious subjects, as well as much of the literature during the Early Modern Period. Milton grew up a normal life, and attended school and universities. Afterwards Milton married a woman who left him soon after the marriage and the two were divorced. Later on, she came back and the two reconciled. In the later years of Milton lost many loved ones including the loose of his father, his father-in-law. Milton's eyesight grew worse, and by 1661 Milton had become blind (Jokinen). After losing his eyesight, Milton also lost his first wife, daughter, son, second wife, and another daughter (Jokinen). Through all of this, Milton kept his faith, and wrote many poems that illustrated that he had faith in God and dedicated many poems to his lost loved ones. The common literary devices and subjects that John Milton uses in Paradise Lost, “How Soon Hath Time,” and “When I Consider How My Light is Spent” convey a stronger representation of Milton's faith, and how through the tough life that Milton lived he remained a religious man.
One of the well-known poems that Milton wrote is Paradise Lost. In this epic poem, Milton uses many literary devices to illustrate his faith in God. In Paradise Lost, Milton uses imagery, diction, and religious subjects to show the strong conviction Milton retained throughout his life. Throughout Paradise Lost, Milton's use of imagery, diction, and the subject of the epic poem represents Milton's strong faith. Paradise Lost also illustrates redemption. This was because Milton's faith reflected redemption, especially with his views on divorce. Milton believed that divorce was ok certain applications.
In the beginning of Book I, the poem picks up in the middle of a narrative where Satan had just fallen from Heaven along with the band of angels. In Book 1, Satan states that “Me preferring, His utmost power with adverse power opposed/ In dubious battle on the plains of Heav'n/ And shook his throne” (Milton, Paradise Lost 949). With this few lines Satan is informing his followers that Satan himself once clashed against God. With this clash against God, Satan once had a chance of conquer God. Milton uses imagery in lines 102-105 of Paradise Lost to bring images of this mighty battle to the readers mind (Milton, Paradise Lost 949). Milton is trying to get people to understand battles that he once faced in his own life. Satan states in lines 258-262 of Paradise Lost that “Here at least/ we shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built/ Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: / Here we may reign secure, and in my choice/ To reign is worth ambition though in Hell” (Milton, 953). Milton uses diction here to express Satan's idea that control in Hell is far better than worship in Heaven, but this is all a lie that Satan tells his followers. Milton uses imagery and diction in these lines to convey the evil that Satan beholds. Book I finally presents Satan as the defeater of his followers.
In Book IX Milton has diminished Satan from a hero. When Satan realizes the beauty that Earth beholds, Satan mourns because he has ruined his chances of living on Earth as Adam and Eve once did. Whenever Satan saw Eve, Satan becomes flabbergasted by Eve's beauty. Whenever Satan starts to realize that beauty of the Earth, this seems to be a reminder to Milton that even though he had lost many things in life, that Milton should be thankful for what he still had. Milton seems to use his diction to convey the idea that he should be happy with what he has, and not to lose faith or to do anything that he would regret later on in Milton's like. While Milton continued to write faithful poetry throughout his life, Milton seemed to have never lost faith, and to commit something that may had regretted later in his life. Later on in Paradise Lost, Milton expresses that Satan was invincible, and by the love of God, Satan was at least able to see the beauty in Adam and Eve. Milton uses imagery to depict Satan as the commander of his demons, and then Satan proposes to build a palace called Pandemonium. In line 754 of Paradise Lost Milton uses the images of the “trumpet's sound” that fill the air, which acts as a fanfare for Satan (Milton, 1014). These images create a picture of how great Satan was, and that no matter how big an evil Satan was, it still does not make you invincible to God. All throughout Paradise Lost, there are examples of how Milton uses his diction, imagery, and his religious subjects that exemplify the faith that Milton had to make it through his hard times.
Another poem by Milton is “How Soon Hath Time,” which uses literary devices to convey Milton's strong faith in God. As with most of all of Milton's poetry, there are references to God, Heaven, and spirits. This sonnet is about when Milton was in his twenties and how he thought that he was not as blessed as other people his age were. In the first eight lines of the sonnet, Milton gives the reasons that he has to blame God and lose faith, but the sonnet is resolved in the last four lines. The diction and imagery that Milton uses in “How Soon Hath Time,” illustrates that though Milton is depressed about how life has turned out to be at this young age, Milton still does not blame God. Even in the end of the poem in lines 9-14 of “How Soon Hath Time” Milton uses a turn and his diction to illustrate, that even in the end Milton is the same (Milton, “How Soon Hath Time” 942). In turn of the sonnet, Milton realizes that while he does not have the life that he may want, in the end he will be on the same level as people less and more fortunate than him. This is what keeps Milton's faith; he realizes that his short physical life is not worth worrying over, because as long as he keeps faith in God, the reward of heaven is for him as long as he keeps faith in God.
Milton also uses imagery in “How Soon Hath Time” to convey Milton's strong sense of faith. Lines 1-3 of “How Soon Hath Time” “How soon hath time the subtle thief of youth, /Stol'n on his wing my three and twentieth year!/My hasting days fly on with full career,” depicts how Milton is giving human traits to his time (Milton, 942). Milton is using imagery to express that someone stole his youth and that his 23rd year is stolen on a wing, and that his days are passing by at a fast pace. According to David Miller, Milton uses personification to convey the imagery that is created in the lines 1-3 of “How Soon Hath Time” (Miller, 3). Whenever the reader reads lines 1-3 of “How Soon Hath Time,” there is the image of a bird that has stolen Milton's youth, and finally the bird flies off with the rest of Milton's days (Milton, 942). This stealing of Milton's time also represents the people that Milton had lost throughout his life. Milton lost two wives, three children, which means that he felt that time he had with his lost ones went by so quick such as if a bird had came and swept them away. However, in the end of the sonnet, Milton uses a turn that shows even though that the bird has stolen his time; he still keeps his faith in God, knowing that all is well and equal in the end in the God's eye.
Milton's use of literary devices in “How Soon Hath Time” illustrates that even through tribulations; Milton still is a faithful man in God. Milton uses his diction to help create imagery that stimulates all the senses that convey to the reader on how Milton feels about his faith and his beliefs in God.
Milton also wrote another poem that uses literary devices to show his strong faith called “When I Consider How My Light is Spent.” Milton wrote this sonnet after he had become completely blind. The main plot behind this sonnet is that even through the obstacles that Milton encountered, Milton still regained strength in his faith. Milton used diction and imagery among other literary devices to convey that he had a strong faith that was unbroken by problems that he encountered.
According to Russell Hillier, Milton uses an allegory with the bible to create imagery in “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” (Hillier, 7). In line 11, the poem parallels the bible with Matthew 11:30 with “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Milton, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” 944). This parallel with bible creates imagery by creating a sense of sight for Milton, as he is a blind man. It also allows the reader to gain more understanding of how the Milton feels about his self. Milton does not look at his blindness as a punishment from God, but just an easy burden. When the reader reads line 11 of the poem, an idea of how Milton feels about his blindness is gained. The reader gains an image of how and what Milton feels like, since becoming blind. Milton was not born blind, therefore he had a keen knowledge of what the world looked like and was able to use objects that he had seen and read before to create a poem that contains imagery to convey his idea of faith and being blind. In line 3, Milton refers to talents (Milton, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” 944). A talent in the book of Mathew is a monetary unit. However, in the poem, Milton uses a pun in his diction to create imagery to help convey the strong faith that Milton has. Milton's vision is consider a talent that he once had, but no longer does, and Milton conveys the idea that his eyesight is priceless. Also in line 10, Milton draws a reference from Job 22:2. With this reference to Job 22:2, Milton is stating that anyone can benefit from God, rather they are wealthy or poor or either blind or not blind.
The diction that Milton uses in “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” helps convey the strong sense of faith that Milton has, even though God blinded him. The words that Milton chose to write this sonnet help illustrate Milton's true faith. In line 8, Milton uses the word patience (Milton, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” 944). Milton's use of the word patience helps convey the idea that one day, Milton will be rewarded with his eyesight that was once taken from him. One day when in Heaven all will perfect health, and Milton realizes that life is short, and that it will not be long before he has sight of his loved ones.
“When I consider How My Light is Spent” is a poem like many others that Milton write, which contain many literary devices, and well as faithful subjects. Imagery was a big part of the Milton's poetry as it allowed and connected Milton back to the real word after he went completely blind. With large amounts of imagery, Milton seemed to get people to understand how he thought.
Most of all the poetry wrote by Milton contains his point of view of his faith. The reason that a lot of Milton's poetry contained his faith may have been influenced from his father. According to Jonathan Rosen, while a child, Milton's family was kicked out of the church due to Milton's father rejecting the Catholic faith in return for the acceptance of Protestantism (Rosen, 4). This taught Milton that if he believed something that he should tell everyone. This was unlike anyone during the time, since people of the time were punished for their beliefs, but Milton wanted to let everyone know how he felt about his faith. According to Myron Taylor, Milton was one of the first poets or writers to start expressing his freedom of speech and religion in the early days, when this type of freedom was unheard of (Taylor, 2). Milton felt so strong about his faith that he thought that it was worth every bit of his life to let everyone know how he felt.
All throughout Milton's poetry the reoccurrence of god, religion, and faith always seems to appear. Milton uses many methods to convey his thoughts of his faith, which include numerous literary devices, themes, and subjects that allow the readers become informed of Milton's faith.
Miller, David. “John Milton: Poetry.” Twayne's English Authors Series 242. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of John Milton." Luminarium. 21 June 2006. 1 Dec. 2009
Milton, John. "Paradise Lost." Masters of British Literature Volume A. 'Ed'. Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettermar, and et. al. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2008.
Milton, John. "How Soon Hath Time." Masters of British Literature Volume A. 'Ed'. Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettermar, and et. al. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2008.
Milton, John. "When I consider How My Light Is Spent." Masters of British Literature Volume A. 'Ed'. Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettermar, and et. al. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2008.
Rosen, Jonathan. "Return to Paradise." The New Yorker. 84.16 (2 June 2008): p72. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Clemson University Libraries.
Taylor, Myron. "John Milton: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Clemson University Libraries.