Clifford Olson


Professor Rohde

December 9, 1998

Reflections of Milton in Milton

At a young age, John Milton was convinced that he was destined for greatness. He thought that he "might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes as they should not willingly let it die". For this reason he thought that his life was very important to himself and to others. He often wrote directly about himself, and he used his life experiences as roots for his literature. In Paradise Lost and in a sonnet entitled "On His Blindness," Milton speaks indirectly and directly of his loss of vision. Also in Paradise Lost, he uses the political situation of his time as a base for the plot, and he incorporates elements of his own character into the character of Satan. In "On Having Arrived at the Age of Twenty-Three", he speaks plainly about the course of his life.
In the latter part of his life, Milton lost his vision. This loss was very traumatic for him because he had not yet completed his mission of writing a memorable work of literature. Soon after, he continued his work with the help of his daughters. He dictated to them a sonnet he called "On His Blindness" in which he asks how God expects him to do his work blind. Milton's ambitious side says that his writing talent is "lodged with [him] useless". His religious side soon realizes that he is "complaining" to God and he takes it back. He discovers that God will not look down on him if he does not write a masterpiece. He granted Milton a great talent, and he expects Milton to be happy.
He has to learn to do his work in a dark world. This poem was not the last time Milton referred to his condition in his writing. In book one of Paradise Lost, while invoking the Muse, Milton said "what in me is dark illumine". He asks to be granted the power to work through his blindness. He obviously thinks of his blindness as a major weakness. Later in the text, he describes Hell as having "no light, but rather darkness visible". It is Milton's way of almost subliminally implying that his condition is comparable to being damned to the underworld. His blindness was something that he constantly had to deal with and he managed to include it in most of his works.
At the prime of Milton's life, the political situation in England was very unsteady. Charles I was overthrown, and the Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell installed himself as the "Lord Protector." Being a Puritan himself, Milton supported this new government, and he even held a job within it. But, England became tired of the strict Puritan rule, and Cromwell's son was defeated, and hastily replaced by Charles II. Everyone who supported Cromwell and the civil war was sentenced to death.
Because of his standing in the community, Milton was allowed to retire in peace. As punishment he lost everything he had including his reputation. He would use the events of his life to help him form the story for book one of Paradise Lost. In his greatest work, Milton begins with a civil war in Heaven during which Lucifer and Beelzebub are defeated and banished to Hell. This event parallels the civil war within England with the Puritans as Lucifer, and the rest of England as God. The Puritans tried to take over England, but they were defeated after a number of years. Most of the Puritan's were killed and Milton was banished from society. Lucifer was banished to Hell, and he would forever lose his reputation as an archangel. These similarities lead scholars to believe that Satan is Milton. Lucifer says that they should make a "Heaven of Hell". This line shows that Satan had the will to work through the bad times and make the best of it. Milton acted the same way with his blindness. Milton seems to be a part of Satan's character.
Milton's Satan continues to fascinate critics largely because he is so complex than the Devil of the Christian tradition appears. Satan's rebelliousness, his seeking of transcendence, his capacity for action, particularly unconventional action, endeared him to certain types of minds, even if their viewpoint might be considered theologically misleading.