Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Paradise Lost, by John Milton

For the past year, I've been trying to understand Paradise Lost, by John Milton. My first attempt back in 4/4/2012 was mostly unsuccessful, since I got through the poem, but didn't really understand it. I plan on trying again, this time going through it very slowly and carefully with MUCH deliberation. I will also read some retellings,  criticisms,  and interpretations along the way. This will be a long an bumpy ride. I'm working from three different texts, and one narration: 

The Barnes and Noble Edition, ed. David Hawkes

The introduction in this edition was quite interesting. I have made notes on it here. Plenty of line-by-line footnotes are provided at the bottom of each page - they are helpful for comprehension of Milton's language. There are also more detailed endnotes. These go more deeply into background and context.

If you get this edition, be sure to buy a hard copy and not the ebook, because the end-of-page footnotes are very awkward on the Nook.

The Norton Critical Edition, ed. Gordon Teskey

The text of this book is easiest for reading. Teskey modernized the spelling and punctuation within the limits of Milton's syntax. Teskey says that the punctuation in the original printings shouldn't be assumed to be the poet's intention. At the time of publication, punctuation was the job of copyists and printers, not of poets. Therefore, modernized punctuation allows for greater clarity without losing Milton's original intent. 

Helpful line-by-line footnotes are provided at the bottom of each page. These help with comprehension of Milton's language.

The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan

This book includes all of Milton's major works. It has copious footnotes that are very helpful for understanding the background and context.

Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained, narrated by Charloton Griffon

Excellent narration! Highly recommended. Listening to this while reading helped immensely in my comprehension.  It comes with a 2 hour biography of Milton at the beginning. I liked this extra info, but it can be skipped if you don't want to listen to it. 

Additionally, I've got three lectures (or sets of lectures) from The Great Courses that I'm working with:

The Western Literary Canon, Lecture 22; Professor John M Bowers
Why Evil Exists, Lecture 18; Professor Charles Matthews
Life and Writings of John Milton; Professor Seth Lerer

Posts about Paradise Lost
Introduction to my quest to understand
Milton - Epic Evil
The Literary Background of Paradise Lost

Book 1, Lines 1-191 

Supplementary Books on Paradise Lost, Milton, or Historical Background
A Preface to Paradise Lost, by C. S. Lewis

Mentions or Retellings of Paradise Lost
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
The Bells, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Philosophy of Composition, by Edgar Allan Poe
The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells

Helpful Links
Darkness Visible


  1. this is quite a tough challenge you've taken on. Paradise Lost is wonderful but it's not for the faint hearted because Milton's style is so dense with imagery and allusion. I love Book 9 (the temptation) and even though it is 30 something years since I studied it at school I can still remember the final lines. Somewhat nerdy maybe!

    1. Yeah, it most certainly is dense. There are so many different layers of understanding. There's the literal meaning layer, then there's the religious allegory, the political allegory, the personal (blindness) allegory, the poetic imagery, the literary allusions, and on and on. Right now, I'm just focusing on literal and then I'll go back and try to get some understanding of the allegories.

  2. Do you find the Norton edition considerable better than the B&N for understanding the text? I'm debating which edition to get.

    1. I'd say the Norton Edition is better for understanding the text, yes. The "modernized" spelling and punctuation clarifies the meaning a lot. Mostly, it's a punctuation issue for me. Teskey's punctuation helps a lot for understanding the flow of the verse. The notes in the Norton Edition are less copious than the ones in the Barnes and Noble Edition, but they provide enough explanation for me.

      By far, the best notes are in the Riverside Milton.

    2. Thanks for your fast response! I'm normally partial to Norton editions, but the price on the B&N is hard to beat.


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