Saturday, January 14, 2017

Milton Lost and Milton Regained

For some reason, over break, I had the desire to reread Lycidas.  It's been a long, long time since I've read it, since, probably, I was preparing for my GREs.  At that time, I was reading in a study group, four of us at a city-located state university that (rumor had it) hadn't been able to buy new books for the library for some years.  We were all in the MA program, and all wanted to go on for a PhD.  So we got together and studied the Norton's, English, American, and World.  We met a couple times a week for most of a summer (all while working, too), and at the end of the summer, we took the GREs.

We worked really well together, each of us pretty much caring about an area, and having taken courses in that area more than the others.  So I helped a lot with the medieval and earlier early modern, and Eve did modern British, and Joy did modern American.  And there was a man whose name I don't remember right now, but he loved Romantics, and so he helped with the Romantics.  He made "Tintern Abbey" work for me, and it wouldn't have without him.

But none of us knew much about what we then called the "long 18th century" and so, well, that was my weakest area. 

And yes, Lycidas was there; I know we read it, and I know I didn't appreciate it.  And over this break, I was thinking, maybe I would get it now?

So when I got back from visiting family, I looked in my school office, and couldn't find my copy of Merritt Hughes.  I think pretty much everyone who studied earlier lit in my era had a Merritt Hughes, right alongside our Riverside Chaucer and our Witherspoon and Warnke.

Anyway, I looked in my school office, where I found an edition of Paradise Lost I used last time I taught it.  And I looked at my home office, where I came up empty.  And when I was at school, I looked again.  And at home, I looked again.  I'm pretty organized about my books.  At school, I have three big shelving units.  Top left shelves are Shakespeare editions.  Middle Left and bottom left is for books I'm using, reference books, oversize books, and some storage.

Middle is criticism, alphabetically by author.  All the way.

Upper right is modern plays.  Then medieval and early modern texts excluding Shakespeare.  Then a few novels and modern poetry and such.

And then reference series (MLA Approaches to Teaching, Cambridge Companions, the sorts of books that I'm likely not to remember the author, but to remember the series.). 

Then there are school stuff: advising manuals, catalogs and such.

At home, in the office, two big shelves: Left is criticism, alphabetically by author.  Right is Shakespeare, then early modern lit by author, then some reference stuff (dictionaries, etc).

Novels are in another room, as are birding books and such.

So, I should have been able to put my hands on Milton right away; he should be there, right after Middleton and before Rowley.  But no.

And this evening, for some reason, I looked again in my home office, and I noticed a thick book in the criticism section with a brown paper bag cover, the sort of cover I put on books that are worn but worth taking care of.  And yes, it was my Merritt Hughes Milton.  What it was doing there, I don't know.

But now I get to reread Lycidas, and I'm hoping I get more out of it than I did the first time.


  1. It took me a while to really appreciate what's so great about Lycidas. It didn't do it for me in college or grad school, and I'm not sure I've ever truly convinced an undergrad of its merits, either.

    A lot of that is about genre and artifice (as Dr. Johnson unfairly says, where there is leisure for fiction, there is little grief), but I also think it's an older person's poem in the same way that (to me) The Winter's Tale is an older person's play. More loss & more life experience make both feel more profound.

  2. Since I moved offices twice this year, my books got a little scrambled. (They were never as organized as yours, though. Never!) I wanted to use a Norton Anthology of Ren plays, and I had found the book in the fall, and thought maybe I'd order a new desk copy since it was somewhat beaten up. I got the desk copy but now I've lost the old one. Wtf?? I still haven't located the old one, and it had some notes I wanted to copy. Ugh.

    I'm interested to hear what you think of Lycidas. I never had to read a scrap of Milton until I forced myself to read PL. Now I'm obsessed with it, but still haven't had time to read anything else by Milton.

  3. It was okay. I wasn't hugely moved, but it's got some strong moments.

  4. That study group sounds so great!