Finding the poet of Paradise Lost was a critical piece of literature
Although every page shows the poet's development, Joe Moshenska's new biography of poet John Milton, , is a strange but fascinating book. The author draws his reader into the life and world of his subject, but also into a sort of lived experience of Milton's poetic approach. Moshenska isn't overly interested in facts and figures, yet less with academic hobby horses. His emphasis is focused on getting to the core sensibilities of the great English poet, and what he calls the Zweischenraum, or
Milton admits that his ambitions as a biographer are unusual and somewhat baffling. But Milton himself portrays an enigmatic figure. A poet, scholar, stateman, self-professed prophet, and anti-royalist revolutionary who wrote his most famous work, , after having gone totally blind, Milton defies a simple recounting of facts. A poet, scholar, stateman, self-professed prophet, and anti-royalist revolutionary who wrote his most famous work,
Moshenska's method floats freely between different literary locations, and ranges widely over various periods of literary history, as well as many passages the poet mastered, based on his research trips and his own experience with Milton's poetry, as well as the many languages he learned, in that it becomes a gloomy animal of a book, a sort of hybrid creature part biography, part literary criticism, and, in those sections where we follow the author on his research trips, part travelogue.
The author makes a speech in the poem's stilted temporality, including notes from the former classmate's mother's inner circle and reveals the poet's tortured process in his many scrawled corrections and false starts. We then go to the event that inspired Lycidas, the 1637 drowning, then rocket forward to 2017 when Moshenska comes to mind when the author discovers the event. As Raphael in Paradise Lost, Moshenska goes
Milton worked on Paradise Lost for decades, but Moshenskas stream-of-consciousness technique feels directed, purposeful. Milton tries to place the poem in history or, at least, to continue circling around the fact that it cannot be securely placed in time. He writes. Parts of it lines, phrases, mental pictures, memories of conversations flash back at odd... and less predictable moments, as if its become just part of my mind.
Moshenska appears to say that composing a life like John Milton is required for a different type of biography. Making Darkness Light takes us with a peek inside its authors mind in contemplation of such a existence and makes a compelling argument that it could be told in no other way.
LIGHT FOR MAKING DARKNESS: A Life of John Milton: A Life of John Milton
Joe Moshenska is a producer of Joe Moshenska's paintings.
464 pages, $35 basic books, 464 pages, $35 $35, $35, $35, $35, $35, $464.
Nathan Pensky is a Carnegie Mellon writer and a recent PhD graduate in early modern literary studies.