Monday, December 13, 2010

Milton's contribution to Modern English

Shakespeare was my favorite author of study during my college years. Yet, I'd have to say my first 'true literary love' award would have to go to John Milton. His epic poem, "Paradise Lost," was an amazingly picturesque portrayal of the story of the creation, rebellion and fall that impacted me greatly.

The language was challenging and rewarding, which was more than I could say for my experience with Chaucer. Most of my fellow classmates were taken with Chaucer's catchy character portrayals and the jovial, if crude and crass, joking in his stories. His Middle English was a challenge, but my peers were motivated to find out things such as how the churlish Miller's Tale would end. For some reason I was just not as motivated by Chaucer as I was by Shakespeare and Milton (See First Things for their "Literary Smackdown: Shakespeare vs. Chaucer").

What I remember most from my BritLit course was listening to my professor as he read the first book of Paradise Lost to us, which opened an entirely new and higher level of English comprehension for me going forward.

This year, as I was substituting for an Honors English class in a public high school, I was privileged to teach Book 1 of Paradise Lost , and then lead the students in answering a battery of questions afterward. So, in keeping with my professor's example, I read about half of the book to them. To my great pleasure, they too silently listened as I did my best to impart his amazing words. Hopefully, they were able to gain from the richness of his language.

Guardian magazine recently published an article detailing Milton's tremendous contributions to Modern English, comparing his work to other literary giants. None of them came close. Here is a sampling: outer space, stunning, literalism, unprincipled, unaccountable, irresponsible, arch-fiend, self-delusion, pandemonium and sensuous, just to name a few of the 630 words accredited to him.
Very interesting!

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