poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

John Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, into a middle-class family. He was educated at St. Paul's School, then at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he began to write poetry in Latin, Italian, and English, and prepared to enter the clergy.

After university, however, he abandoned his plans to join the priesthood and spent the next six years in his father's country home in Buckinghamshire following a rigorous course of independent study to prepare for a career as a poet. His extensive reading included both classical and modern works of religion, science, philosophy, history, politics, and literature. In addition, Milton was proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian, and obtained a familiarity with Old English and Dutch as well.

During his period of private study, Milton composed a number of poems, including "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," "On Shakespeare," "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," and the pastoral elegy "Lycidas." In May of 1638, Milton began a 13-month tour of France and Italy, during which he met many important intellectuals and influential people, including the astronomer Galileo, who appears in Milton's tract against censorship, "Areopagitica."

In 1642, Milton returned from a trip into the countryside with a 16-year-old bride, Mary Powell. Even though they were estranged for most of their marriage, she bore him three daughters and a son before her death in 1652. Milton later married twice more: Katherine Woodcock in 1656, who died giving birth in 1658, and Elizabeth Minshull in 1662.

During the English Civil War, Milton championed the cause of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell, and wrote a series of pamphlets advocating radical political topics including the morality of divorce, the freedom of the press, populism, and sanctioned regicide. Milton served as secretary for foreign languages in Cromwell's government, composing official statements defending the Commonwealth. During this time, Milton steadily lost his eyesight, and was completely blind by 1651. He continued his duties, however, with the aid of Andrew Marvell and other assistants.

After the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, Milton was arrested as a defender of the Commonwealth, fined, and soon released. He lived the rest of his life in seclusion in the country, completing the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost in 1667, as well as its sequel Paradise Regained and the tragedy Samson Agonistes both in 1671. Milton oversaw the printing of a second edition of Paradise Lost in 1674, which included an explanation of "why the poem rhymes not," clarifying his use of blank verse, along with introductory notes by Marvell. He died shortly afterwards, on November 8, 1674, in Buckinghamshire, England.

Paradise Lost, which chronicles Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden, is widely regarded as his masterpiece and one of the greatest epic poems in world literature. Since its first publication, the work has continually elicited debate regarding its theological themes, political commentary, and its depiction of the fallen angel Satan who is often viewed as the protagonist of the work.

The epic has had wide-reaching effect, inspiring other long poems, such as Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, William Wordsworth's The Prelude and John Keats's Endymion, as well as Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, and deeply influencing the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake, who illustrated an edition of the epic.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Lycidas (1638)
Poems (1645)
Paradise Lost (1667)
Paradise Regained (1671)
Samson Agonistes (1671)

Drama

Arcades (1632)
Comus (1634)

Non-Fiction

Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in England (1641)
The Reason of Church Government Urged Against Prelaty (1642)
The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643)
Areopagitica (1644)
Of Education (1644)
The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649)
A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes (1659)

To the Same

John Milton, 1608 - 1674
Cyriack, this three years’ day these eyes, though clear,  
  To outward view, of blemish or of spot,  
  Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;  
  Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear  
Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year,   
  Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not  
  Against Heaven’s hand or will, nor bate a jot  
  Of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer  
Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask?  
  The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied    
  In liberty’s defence, my noble task,  
Of which all Europe rings from side to side.  
  This thought might lead me through the world’s vain mask  
  Content, though blind, had I no better guide. 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Milton

John Milton

John Milton was born in London on December 9, 1608, into a

by this poet

poem
Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch-Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav'n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he 
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made
poem
I

This is the month, and this the happy morn,  
Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,  
Of wedded maid and Virgin Mother born,  
Our great redemption from above did bring;  
For so the holy sages once did sing,
  That he our deadly forfeit should release,  
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace
poem

Eve speaks to Adam

With thee conversing I forget all time;
All seasons, and their change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of Morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds: pleasant the sun,
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower