ABSTRACT

Milton aspires to light, to free himself from the body. A celebrant of the solar Logos, he is preoccupied with the conflict between spirit and nature and the frightening possibility of the dissolution of consciousness. The central figures in Milton's poems are associated with the death and rebirth of the sun. In his early poems the figure of Orpheus, whose Apollonian song tamed Dionysian nature, inspires the triumph of the Christ-child over the pagan deities, the death and rebirth of Lycidas, the mystique of the Lady's “sun-clad power of chastity.” In the later poems solar power tends to become apocalyptically destructive: Samson annihilates the Philistines, and the Son overwhelms the rebel angels in his solar chariot. Milton's ideal, symbolized by the chariot of Deity, is to harness physical energies in service of the Logos. This ideal of sublimation, which has alchemical affinities, is displayed in A Mask. Ideally, sublimation should lead to integration and higher wholeness. Yet in Milton, transcendence seems ultimately based upon dismemberment—the mortification of nature in the interests of spirit.

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