Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Milton's 400th birthday

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, the greatest poet who has ever lived. There will be lots of celebratory events around the world throughout 2008 (I myself am co-organising a conference here in Brisbane). If you’re lucky enough to be in Oxford this year, the Bodleian Library has a terrific exhibition entitled Citizen Milton.

And over at Cambridge, there’ll be an extraordinary range of events at Christ’s College (this was Milton’s own college). There’s a series of public lectures – the first, on 30 January, is by Quentin Skinner. There are two library exhibitions, Living at This Hour and Milton in the Old Library. And there’ll be performances of Comus and Paradise Lost, as well as a performance of Handel’s oratorio L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed Il Moderato (which is based on Milton’s poems).

Later in the year, keep an eye out for the release of a major new edition of Milton’s works, published by Oxford UP, as well as Yale UP’s new Milton Encyclopedia.

If you’ve never read his great poem, Paradise Lost, then you can’t even begin to imagine what you’re missing out on. If you’d like to read it, there’s an excellent online Milton Reading Room, or you might prefer to check out the lovely illustrated edition introduced by that lively modern Miltonian, Philip Pullman (who writes without fetters because he is of the angels’ party without knowing it). And one of my own essays on Milton is also available as a free download from the Milton Quarterly website.

In short, there’s never been a better time to get into John Milton. As far as I’m concerned, life without Paradise Lost would not even be worth living (it would not even be life) – without Milton, I could only sigh and pine:

        “How can I live without thee? How forgo
        Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined,
        To live again in these wild woods forlorn?” (PL 9.908-10)

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