400 years of milton


The writer of blank verse in English who exploited that way of writing, influencing countless generations of poets and changing the language itself forever, is John Milton, born 400 years ago. His writing permanently saturated American culture and discourse. Du Bois in this passage refers to Shakespeare explicitly. Implicitly, he also echoes Milton, as have many American writers and public speakers.

A political revolutionary, a radically anti-monarchist Protestant and passionate small-R republican, Milton wrote a defense of divorce and, in Areopagitica, a “Scriptural and Historical Argument in Favour of Promiscuous Reading” and against “Licensing” of publication that remains the most quoted and admired argument against censorship. He also wrote Eikonoklastes, an essay arguing against an immensely popular book called Eikon Basilike: The Portraiture of His Sacred Majesty in His Solitudes and Sufferings—a romanticized account of the spiritual beauty of the deposed and executed King Charles. Milton debunks the notion of a pious, saintly Charles with the formidable, energetic scorn of an iconoclast who knows he is right. No wonder the author of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained was such a formative American import.

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