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What is Grand Style?
It is a matter of fact that one of the reasons behind the success of Paradise Lost is Milton’s grand style. It is a style of writing that is usually allotted to poets of epic poems. The grand style involves lofty dignity, eloquence and sublimity. Mostly the poets and writers of the 17th and early 18th centuries of Europe in both the neo-classic and renaissance periods used this style of writing in their literary works. In the grand style of writing, a poet uses grand similes, far fetched metaphors and also makes allusions to different myths, incidents and folk tales as per his knowledge and experiences. A poet who practises writing poems with a grand style does not think about the knowledge of his readers; he usually has more knowledge as compared to his readers, hence, readers need to upgrade their knowledge to read an epic poem.
John Milton is the most discussed poet in this regard. He has also been criticised the most and charged with making corruption in the English language as well as in literature due to his unending exposure to knowledge in his book Paradise lost. Indeed, the poem is a masterpiece and perhaps would be discussed for centuries yet some of the critics are of the view that the poet has made some unnecessary changes in writing a poem or epic.
Attributes of Writing Style
Several general and most used characteristics are there to judge a style of writing. One has to consider them to make a decision about the category of a particular style. Those characteristics are:
- Sentence Structure
- Similes and Metaphors
Milton’s Grand Style in Paradise Lost
As mentioned earlier, the aforementioned characteristics are general and almost every poet uses these poetic devices/characteristics while writing a poem, novel or drama. John Milton also skillfully makes use of them but the problem lies when readers read them. It is also another charge against Milton that he set the standard of writing poetry so high that the upcoming poets would hardly be able to reach his standard of writing. Thus, both the readers and the poets from the future need extra knowledge; for readers to read the poem and for poets to write poetry. Views of critics with respect to Milton’s grand style in Paradise Lost are divided into two categories.
- Negative: those who are against his style of writing and do not recommend his style to future poets.
- Positive: those who are in favour of his grand style are thankful to him due to his contribution to improving English literature.
Let’s first discuss his style and then shed light on the views of different critics.
It is a well-known fact that John Milton was a man of letters. Paradise Lost is the result of his hard work. He read the bible again and again and also compared his epic poem with the Greeks and made changes to it before publishing, hence, he had more than enough knowledge. If we compare the words of Paradise Lost with any modern poem, we realise that the epic poem is not for uneducated people; rather it has been written for highly educated people. There are more than enough words that create ambiguity in the poem. Every time Milton uses them their meanings are changed with the situation, hence, extra knowledge is required to understand them. Thus, Milton’s grand style in Paradise Lost involves his high vocabulary.
Modern poets do poetry for laymen. In fact, it has become their motto to write poetry for everyone. Simplicity is one of the key elements in their poems; however, the symbolism remains there to extract meanings from words. Paradise Lost is rich in vocabulary which in fact is a drawback. The exact use of words for an exact situation definitely makes poetry beautiful and powerful but a deliberate act of expressing an incident with heavy vocabulary ruins the taste. As a result, readers need a dictionary to go through the whole poem.
It has also been said that Milton either does not know the grammar or he has deliberately corrupted the English language. He is the one who has supported the trend of writing poetry with blank verse. In order to accomplish his goals he puts the words randomly in the sentences. Let’s have an example from Paradise Lost:-
Say first, for Heav’n hides nothing from thy view
Nor the deep Tract of Hell, say first what cause
Mov’d our Grand Parents in that happy State,
Favour’d of Heav’n so highly, to fall off
From thir Creator, and transgress his WillParadise Lost
Although the English language has changed a lot and modern readers are unable to read classical poetry without the help of a dictionary yet from sentence structure, Paradise Lost is also much more difficult to read and also due to Milton’s grand style. Further, the poet uses very few and odd punctuation marks. Hardly he uses any question mark in a line that is based on an interrogative sentence. Readers need to read it twice to understand that it is a question. Thus, loose sentence structure is also another charge against John Milton.
Similes and Metaphors
If that is not enough, the poet uses numerous similes and metaphors in his book Paradise Lost. A simile is a poetic device that creates beauty in the poem. It helps us to imagine something. Similarly, the metaphor also does the same. For instance, when a poet says about a character that he is as brave as a lion or writes he is a lion we imagine him as a courageous person who is ready to face and endure danger or pain. The problem lies when one does not have knowledge about the thing that has been used for simile or metaphor.
A lot of examples are there from Paradise Lost where Milton uses similes. For instance, he compares Satan’s spear with the tallest pine tree. It is acceptable so far the people understand it but when the poet writes:
By ancient Tarsus held, or that Sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his worksParadise Lost
The pot compares Satan with the Sea beast Leviathan. It is somewhat difficult to understand what the poet wants to convey. He makes allusions to Jewish mythology, in which Leviathan is a primordial sea serpent, hence, a common reader cannot understand this allusion until and unless he has strong knowledge of Jewish mythology. Consequently, deep knowledge is required to read Paradise Lost which contains Milton’s grand style.
Allusions and Milton’s Grand Style in Paradise Lost
John Milton’s knowledge is so high that the readers must have a good command of the bible and Greek myths before understanding it despite the fact that the theme of “Fall of Man” is common to everyone and everybody knows it from his childhood. He makes allusions to those things that are still unknown even to the students of literature. Needless to mention that the epic poem is always in narration form but the poets never explain the incident to which they make reference, hence, readers need to use their minds and knowledge to revise the incident reference to which the poet makes in his epic poems.
The poet also compares things either with the incidents that have occurred in the past or to those that have been mentioned in former books. It is not always the case that readers know everything about them. The poet has not selected his audience before publishing his poem, hence, Paradise Lost is for those people who have good knowledge of the bible, know the Greek myths and have acknowledged Milton’s grand style.
Hardly, we find any objection from any critic to images of the poem. The poet exaggerates things but this is what an epic poem is about. He uses his imagination to create images. For instance, in book-I, he makes an image of hell in the following words:-
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visibleParadise Lost
Likewise, he paints Satan’s image very skilfully in his book Paradise Lost. The only major objection against him with respect to images is that he repeats them in his poems.
Critics, Their Objections and Milton’s Grand Style in Paradise Lost
Modern writers and critics regard Milton’s grand style in Paradise Lost as an artificial style of writing. Ezra Pound, Herbert Read, F.R. Leavis and T.S. Eliot argue that his style is artificial and has no intrinsic value; it is meaningless and injurious to other poets. On the other hand, C.S. Lewis and Professor Bush have positive reviews of Milton’s grand style. According to them, it is ideally suited to the sustained narration of the epic action.
Similarly, Addison says that “Our language sunk under him [milton]”. Dr Johnson is also against the diction that Milton uses in his book Paradise Lost. He says that Paradise Lost is not based on the English language; rather he has invented a new language, hence, when a reader opens the book, he finds himself surprised by a new language.
Admittedly, the poet uses such idioms and phrases that were never there before the book was published; most of the time he relies on Latin phrases; therefore, it seems that he combines the English language with Latin.
T.S. Eliot also points out unacceptable rules of English grammar and syntax. He is the one who criticised him the most due to artificiality and fabrication in Milton’s grand style in Paradise Lost.
John Milton has been regarded as the best poet especially because of his epic poem Paradise Lost. He selected or invented a style of writing that best suited him at that time. Paradise Lost remained unsurpassable until now due to the narration in the poem. John Milton may have been charged because of the invention of a new style of writing; however, charges do not make a person guilty. On one side if critics have negative reviews then on the other hand some critics have supportive reviews in favour of Milton’s grand style in Paradise Lost.