Monday, 30 March 2015

In Sight of Heaven

This story is about the journey John Milton takes to become the poet capable of writing Paradise Lost. It is told through the dictation of his poem in a series of reminiscences as he composes it in the darkest dungeon of Newgate Prison while awaiting execution.

The climax of the narrative comes when he is summoned by the Governor before he has finished his composition. Knowing it will be his masterpiece, he is presented with a dilemma. He can choose life and the opportunity to fulfil his need, or death with honour without sacrificing his libertarian principles.

As a young man, above all, Milton wants to be celebrated as the best poet in the English language since Shakespeare. The early conflict is with his parents and university tutors whose desire is that he become a priest. But he doesn’t like priests, nor anyone who claims to stand above Man and interpret God’s will. Especially Charles I who believed in the ‘divine right of kings’.

By the time he is 30, Milton is in Florence, basking in the acclaim he has achieved as a poet. An encounter with the ‘father of modern science’ precipitates his fall like Lucifer out of the heavenly light. Blind now, Galileo is under house arrest, forbidden from sharing his astronomical knowledge because it threatens the supremacy of the Church.

Milton's outrage about Galileo’s plight leads him into the dark world of political extremism to write for the Parliamentarians in their dispute with the autocratic Charles I that leads to the Civil War. Making common cause with his hero Cromwell, also a religious man with a problem about authority, they forge an axis together, Milton with his pen and Cromwell on the battlefield.

When Parliament wins the Civil War, Milton signs up to the execution of Charles I and is offered a job in Cromwell’s government writing to promote the virtues of the Commonwealth around the world. But Milton becomes disillusioned when Cromwell abolishes Parliament, appointing himself as king in all but name.

Fearing a return of the Stuarts as a worse evil, Milton refuses to join a plot to assassinate Cromwell. Yet his principled stand does not save him when the monarchy is restored, as Milton is hunted down with other regicides and imprisoned on death row. Yet in this darkest of places he finds his poetic voice again, channelling his bitter experience into dictating his masterpiece Paradise Lost.

Like his mentor Galileo, Milton has become blind and incarcerated, yet with the help of his friend Andrew Marvell and beloved Betty he can prevail. His story reflects the themes in the poem of ambition, temptation and falling out of a state of grace, that are found in the narratives of Lucifer and Adam & Eve.

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