Paradise Lost


John Milton

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Paradise Lost: Style 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

Paradise Lost is written in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. This style lends structure and precision to the verse—providing exactly ten syllables per line—while also allowing Milton to experiment with his verse, without the constraints of rhyme. Indeed, in his prefatory note about the poem's style, Milton calls blank verse "English heroic verse without rhyme," noting that "rhyme being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse...[it is] the invention of a barbarous age." "[A]ncient liberty," he declares, has been "recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming."  

Milton's use of blank verse was a form of rebellion against convention, similar to the rebellions depicted at great length in Paradise Lost (Satan's against God, and Eve's against Adam and God). Rhyme had been a prevalent feature of English poetry in the decades leading up to Milton's own era, particularly in genres imported from other European countries, such as the Italian Petrarchan sonnet. Rhymed iambic pentameter can be seen in the work of predecessors to Milton, like Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer (whose Canterbury Tales can also be seen as an epic poem). Yet Milton eschewed rhyme as a trivial, "jingling sound," associated with "vulgar readers" and capable of only inhibiting free expression. He attributed his capacity for rangy, complex descriptions to blank verse instead. Like Eve and Satan, who seek agency for themselves in Paradise Lost—defying hierarchy and tradition—Milton sought freedom through verse.