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**Note: King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology is on sale this weekend. It is completely free on the Kindle for this weekend only so grab a copy, read these 13 short stories set across various time periods (including my own set in Medieval Iceland), and leave a review!

Welcome back to another Scholarly Saturday edition on my blog. Continuing the trend for April, because it is National Poetry Month, I am going to discuss another long poetic work that you should be reading. Because there are so many great ones to choose from, more than ever could be covered in five posts, it is getting even harder to narrow down which works should get the spotlight. Here are the two already completed, in case you missed them:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

I would be remiss to go through this month without taking a week to look at Milton. I have known of his work for a long time, but I did not get around to reading Paradise Lost until last year. I absolutely loved it, although it is clearly a poetic work that will take many rereadings to enjoy and appreciate the full depth of information and allusions contained in those pages.

For those who do not know, John Milton was a poet back in the 1600s. He wrote many great poetical works, but his magnum opus was certainly this one. It is a poetic re-imagining of the opening chapters of the book of Genesis concerning the Fall of Man; the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan, leading to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This poem is arranged into twelve books and runs over 10,000 lines in length.

Did you know that John Milton was blind? The entirety of the poem was composed through dictation, with hired scribes and friends taking down the words he wrote over the course of roughly five years.

The poem itself is written in blank verse. What that means, essentially, is that it follows a pattern for each line, such as iambic pentameter, but that the lines do not rhyme. This is a very popular form for poetry, one that gives the recitation of a work a nice rhythm while allowing the poet freedom of word choice. As a small sample, here are some lines taken from Paradise Lost, a scene regarding the first love of Adam and Eve:

HUS talking, hand in hand alone they passed
On to their blissful bower. It was a place
Chosen by the sov’reign Planter, when he framed
All things to Man’s delightful use; the roof
Of thickest covert was inwoven shade,
Laurel and myrtle, and what higher grew
Of firm and fragrant leaf; on either side
Acanthus, and each odorous bushy shrub,
Fenced up the verdant wall; each beauteous flower,
Iris all hues, roses, and jessamine,
Rear’d high their flourished heads between, and wrought
Mosaic; under foot the violet
Crocus, and hyacinth, with rich inlay
Broidered the ground, more coloured than the stone
Of costliest emblem: Other creature here,
Beast, bird, insect, or worm, durst enter none;
Such was their awe of Man. In shadier bower
More sacred and sequestered, though but feigned
Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph,
Nor Faunus haunted. Here, in close recess,
With flowers, garlands, and sweet-smelling herbs,
Espousèd Eve decked first her nuptial bed
And heavenly quires the hymenean sung,
What day the genial Angel to our sire
Brought her, in naked beauty more adorned,
More lovely than Pandora, whom the Gods
Endowed with all their gifts, and, O! too like
In sad event, when to the unwiser son
Of Japhet brought by Hermes, she ensnared
Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged
On him who had stole Jove’s authentic fire.
Thus at their shady lodge arrived, both stood,
Both turned, and under open sky adored
The God that made both sky, air, earth and heaven
Which they beheld, the moon’s resplendent globe,
And starry pole: “Thou also madest the night,
Maker Omnipotent; and thou the day,
Which we in our appointed work employed,
Have finished, happy in our mutual help
And mutual love, the crown of all our bliss
Ordained by thee; and this delicious place,
For us too large, where thy abundance wants
Partakers, and uncropt falls to the ground.
But thou hast promised from us two a race
To fill the earth, who shall with us extol
They goodness infinite, both when we wake
And when we seek, as now, the gift of sleep.”
This said unanimous, and other rites
Observing none, but adoration pure
Which God likes best, into their inmost bower
Handed they went; and eased the putting off
Those troublesome disguises which we wear,
Straight side by side were laid; nor turned, I ween,
Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites
Mysterious of connubial love refused:
Whatever hypocrites austerely talk
Of purity, and place, and innocence,
Defaming as impure what God declares
Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.
Our Maker bids increase; who bids abstain
But our destroyer, foe to God and Man?
Hail, wedded Love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise, of all things common else!
By thee adult’rous love was driven from men
Among the bestial herds to range; by thee,
Founded in reason, loyal, just and pure,
Relations dear, and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother, first were known.
Far be it that I should write thee sin or blame,
Or think the unbefitting holiest place
Perpetual fountain of domestic sweets,
Whose bed is undefiled and chaste pronounced,
Present or past, as saints and patriarchs used!
Here love his golden shafts employs, here lights
His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings,
Reigns here and revels; not in the bought smile
Of harlots, loveless, joyless, unendeared,
Casual fruition: nor in court amours
Mixed dance, or wanton mask, or midnight ball,
Or serenade, which the starved lover sings
To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain.
These lulled by nightingales embracing slept,
And on their naked limbs the flow’ry roof
Showered roses, which the morn repaired. Sleep on,
Blest pair! and, O! yet happiest if ye seek
No happier state, and know to know no more!
The full poem is awesome, if overwhelming at times, and certainly worth reading at least once. I am convinced, though, that this is the sort of poem that gets better each and every time you read through it. And I certainly plan to revisit this one!
For a shorter work today, I thought it would be fitting to share one of my favorite Anglo-Saxon poems, “The Dream of the Rood”. The rood in this poem refers to the cross that Christ is crucified on, which is what makes it a fitting share this week. It is an interesting and imaginative poem that I absolutely loved the first time I read it. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it as well!
Come back next Saturday as I share two more great Anglo-Saxon poems, Beowulf and “The Wanderer”!