Milton's decision to become a poet, like that to become a minister, was taken early; and the vocational streams issuing from these twin and complementary resolves run parallel until at least 1637, when he composed Lycidas. Neither Sonnet VII nor the “Letter to a Friend” (1633) will support a case for Milton's abandoning a priestly, and embracing a poetic, career in 1632; similarly, although the unsettling events of 1637 drove Milton to a reassessment of his plan to take holy orders, the available evidence suggests that he did not take this step in 1637. The combination of his Italian experience and events in England (principally the promulgation of the Laudian Canons of 1640) finally led Milton to the belief that he had been “Church-outed by the Prelats.” The most striking vocational feature of the pre-1639 poetry is its reiterated protestation of unpreparedness; after his Italian trip, however, Milton has a firm sense of poetic direction and purpose, and his recognition that poetry is an extension of the ministerial function resolves any vocational tension between poetry and the pulpit, for Milton believes himself to be a national poet-priest who will serve as God's spokesman and interpreter through poetry.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.