The four horsemen of the poetic world are considered to be Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and John Milton. Milton’s poetry is not as dynamic as Homer’s, as hair-raising as Dante’s or as versatile as Shakespeare’s, but for my money (whatever that is worth) give me Milton. Perhaps it is the subject matter. Homer wrote of gods and warriors, Dante of hell, Shakespeare of mortal heroes and villains, Milton of God, Satan and the fall of man.
Paradise Lost made Milton immortal in the world of literature. His descriptions of heaven, hell, angels and demons have done more to shape the average person’s view of these things than even the Bible itself. This of course draws a word of caution from us. Milton traffics in fantasy; Scripture in reality. What Milton wrote is great fiction; what God wrote is powerful truth. All we really know of the spirit world is gleaned from the Bible, but Milton starts the juices of our imagination flowing.
The hero (or anti-hero) of Paradise Lost , the one around which all else revolves, is Satan. His defiance is well illustrated throughout, and he is given the best lines, most notable the following: The mind is its own place, and in itself / can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven (lines 254,255). And, Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven (line 263).
The story line of this epic poem is Satan’s rebellion in heaven and the fall of man because of Satanic enticement. The reader is astonished as they watch Satan and his angels challenge the Almighty; he is ecstatic as war in heaven unfolds; he sorrows as he watches our first parents make that awful choice; he is full of pathos as that couple is banished from Paradise.
We all know the story, but when Milton tells it, it comes alive. What a shame that so few have ever read this true classic.