UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The resolution of dualities in Milton's English poetry Nelson, Margaret V.


Milton's poetic thought especially as expressed in Paradise Lost consists of three basic elements, God, man, and the Evil One. For Milton as a Seventeenth-century Christian the first and last of these two elements are absolutes while Milton's adherence to Renaissance humanism means that man also has a place of prominence in the poet's view of the totality of things. Each of the three elements in Milton's intellectual framework is in polar tension with each of the other two. From the tension between man and God arises the conflict of human concerns with divine imperatives resulting in such dualities as: body and soul, matter and spirit, the pleasures of the flesh and the demands of the spirit, secular human culture and the will of God, reason and revelation, salvation by human effort and salvation by divine grace. The tension between good and evil involves conflicts between human sin and divine righteousness and between human suffering and the ultimate beneficence and justice of God. These dualities occur in Milton's poetry with a frequency which suggests that they constitute a continuing problem m the poet's life and thought. This thesis attempts to show that in his poetry Milton consistently sought to unify and resolve these dualities but that the means by which he tried to do so and the extent to which he was successful differ from one poem to another. In the first group of poems, which includes all the early minor poems written before Comus and Lycidas, dualities tend not to be very deeply felt or very firmly pressed. Where resolution is necessary between two opposites, this resolution is, as a rule, complete and is achieved without strenuous effort. In the second group of poems, which includes Comus and Lycidas, there are deeply felt oppositions which clash strongly throughout the poems. These dualities are, on the whole, not completely resolved in the course of the individual poems; much tension remains at the end of each work and oppositions are often simply juxtaposed without resolution. Such resolution as does result is achieved by oblique and unexpected means. The final group of poems includes Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. These three poems are as full of dichotomies as the two works which immediately precede them. The oppositions are also as deeply felt as m the earlier two poems but by vast expenditures of energy are triumphantly resolved and held in dynamic balance. The resolutions achieved in these three poems are complete and are attained in direct ways.

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