Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Baroque Puritanism

One of the many challenges of Milton as a poet is that this austere puritan offers a vision of Eden that "has the fleshly abundance of a Venetian painting:"

Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm,
Others whose fruit, burnished with golden rind,
Hung amiable, Hesperian fables true,
If true, here only, and of delicious taste:
Betwixt them lawns, or level downs, and flocks
Grazing the tender herb, were interposed,
Or palmy hillock; or the flowery lap
Of some irriguous valley spread her store,
Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose:
Another side, umbrageous grots and caves
Of cool recess, o'er which the mantling vine
Lays forth her purple grape, and gently creeps

Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native honour clad
In naked majesty seemed lords of all:

His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved ...
So Wylie Sypher in Four Stages of Renaissance Style, excerpting Book IV of Paradise Lost.  Sypher continues: "Milton's own ethic was, we know, austere, disciplining strictly that 'visible and sensuous colleague, the body.'  Yet this Paradise of his shows how imperative a style can be, for it was created by the golden and copious vision of Counter-Reformastion art." 

Aside from the Venetians, Sypher compares Milton also to Rubens, with whom (Sypher says) Milton shares "a certain domain of baroque imagination...."    Rubens, he says, "is a witness to the heroic traditions of renaissance humanism--a humanism powerful enough to create its own myths simply by the splendor of its scenes."

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