Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pastoral Degeneration

Lo! The sheep are melting!

A summary of the paper I'm writing, on Milton of course:

To Hell and Back: Pastoral Degeneration in Milton's Poems (Workin' title! Want to find something in PL to replace "to hell and back.")

The young Milton is thoroughly "rusticated" by the time he composes "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." The classical pastoral had become his best expressive vehicle, and he continues to work in this Virgilian vein into his 30s, culminating with "Lycidas" (in English) and "Epitaphiam Damonis," his last Latin pastoral elegy. At this point he vows he will lay down the pastoral altogether, unless he can continue it in a distinctly English voice. When Milton finally gets down to the real work of his great poem, Paradise Lost, he has moved away from his earlier dependence on pastoral imagery and builds an epic work, rivaling Virgil's later epic poetry, but, like epic Virgil, Milton still interweaves the reminiscent, soothing tones of the "oaten flute" behind the soaring voice of his universal tragedy. The penetrating literary tradition, found in Milton's dense allusions and similes, is evidence of Pastoralism's strands in the fabric of PL. Finally, as Milton dealt so beautifully with pastorals of fields, forests, and even oceans in his early poetry, Milton must deal with the ultimate pastoral landscape -- Eden. His classical mindset, his constant urge for Virgilian homage, and his Christian beliefs must come together to create a pastoral scene like no other, both in its resplendent beauty before the Fall, and in its completely degenerated form (degenerated, like his use of the pastoral has become) once our "general ancestors" have undone any hope of reclaiming the perfect Earthly landscape.

That's just the summary I wrote up to share with my colleagues.  Now I have to actually write that shit.  Just wanted to say 'hi' to the blog, to confirm that yes I am still reading Milton, and no I am not getting lazy. 

When I came up with that degeneration concept (which I haven't found anything specific on -- yes!), I was thinking of Milton's pastoral lapse and his move to the epic, by fits and starts (some seemingly intentional, some a writer's struggle).  I'm not as interested in what made Milton change his tune, but what happens when you take this degenerated application of a literary type (pastoral elegy) and apply it to Eden, pre- and post-lapse.  The former is almost garishly and sexually generative, the latter is (and I didn't even intend this!) most literally degenerative. Add in all Milton's careful use of words like "general ancestor" and I've got all kinds of wordplay to work with.  I'm still trying to work in something about Hell being a pastoral landscape too, but I don't know if that will fly.

My sources are all antique ones, which I think is okay for Milton studies.  All the newer sources were about "the body," gender, and other such buzzword buzzkills. I wanted some good meaty treatments of the Virgilian aspects of Milton, the pastoral, you know, old timer stuff.  So I'm turning to some dead men who wrote for Studies in Philology and the like, and I will see you in 15 pages or so.


  1. As I fellow Lit major, I'm so happy I found this blog! I definitely look forward to commiserating.

    I'm sure you're also in the throes of final papers right now, so good luck!

  2. Thanks mountainchicken! I labored over that paper; as when Eve crouched beneath the grotesque firs, removed by her own disobedience from the comforts of her bower in Paradise, and bore her first son; the son she knew would... Agh, no more similes! For now anyway.

    Milton final is next week and then I'm done til Fall. How did your Moderns class turn out?

    I really love your blog. That poor, poor asphyxiated baby chicken. You saved him for sure.


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