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Dominion Undeserved

Milton and the Perils of Creation

by Eric B. Song

Publication Year: 2013

That the writings of John Milton continue to provoke study and analysis centuries after his lifetime speaks no doubt to his literary greatness but also to the many ways in which his art both engaged and transcended the political and theological tensions of his age. In Dominion Undeserved, Eric B. Song offers a brilliant reading of Milton's major writings, finding in them a fundamental impasse that explains their creative power.

According to Song, a divided view of creation governs Milton's related systems of cosmology, theology, art, and history. For Milton, any coherent entity-a nation, a poem, or even the new world-must be carved out of and guarded against an original unruliness. Despite being sanctioned by God, however, this agonistic mode of creation proves ineffective because it continues to manifest internal rifts that it can never fully overcome. This dilemma is especially pronounced in Milton's later writings, including Paradise Lost, where all forms of creativity must strive against the fact that chaos precedes order and that disruptive forces will continue to reemerge, seemingly without end.

Song explores the many ways in which Milton transforms an intractable problem into the grounds for incisive commentary and politically charged artistry. This argument brings into focus topics ranging from Milton's recurring allusions to the Eastern Tartars, the way Milton engages with country house poetry and colonialist discourses in Paradise Lost, and the lasting relevance of Anglo-Irish affairs for his late writings. Song concludes with a new reading of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes in which he shows how Milton's integration of conflicting elements forms the heart of his literary archive and confers urgency upon his message even as it reaches its future readers.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

It may reflect poorly on my character that I wrote a book about the loss of happy homelands while living in a number of delightful places. I started this project at the University of Virginia under the supervision of James Nohrnberg, Gordon Braden, and Katharine Eisaman Maus. ...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-16

After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, John Milton found himself estranged from his native country.1 During these evil days, Milton was briefly imprisoned and in some danger of execution for having passionately defended the beheading of the restored king’s father. ...

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1. The Strange Fire of the Tartars

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pp. 17-44

John Rogers has interpreted these lines within the context of “the contemporary physiology of tartar,” which names “the inassimilable elements purged from the system in the process of digestion.”1 These dregs are fecal and abject, and must be purged before creation can begin. ...

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2. Eden, the Country House, and the Indies (East and West)

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pp. 45-71

Eden should have been the happiest of homelands. In the Miltonic universe, however, Eden’s origins may help to explain its rapid loss. God creates Eden in the aftermath of a war that reveals the fissures within his kingdom. In book 6 of Paradise Lost, Raphael narrates the height of the war in Heaven and recalls that “war seemed a civil game / To this uproar; ...

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3. Paradise Lost and the Question of Ireland

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pp. 72-110

In Paradise Lost, questions about the loss of humanity’s first homeland converge upon questions about Adam and Eve’s unstable union. The answers offered by the poem must be explored in greater detail, not only because their psychological density marks the poem as a key moment in early modernity, ...

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4. Gemelle Liber: Milton’s 1671 Archive

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pp. 111-151

For a reader who knows the entire corpus of Milton’s writings, Paradise Lost’s concluding vision of conjugal love is compromised. In book 9 Adam and Eve consummate the Fall, and the poet likens the couple to the figure of Samson: “So rose the Danite strong / Herculean Samson from the harlot-lap / Of Philistean Dalilah, and waked / Shorn of his strength” (9.1059– 62). ...

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pp. 152-158

Before, during, and after Milton’s quadricentennial in 2009, Milton scholars asked why Milton matters. In a brief essay on the topic, Stanley Fish took to task critics who fail to connect their historicist research to genuinely literary questions of form and genre (which, for Fish, largely equate to questions of authorial intention). ...


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pp. 159-184


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pp. 185-200


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pp. 201-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780801468094
E-ISBN-10: 0801468094
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451850
Print-ISBN-10: 080145185X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1