Though he is a difficult poet to understand, John Milton can be enjoyable once he is understood. After multiple readings of his sonnets, the meanings of each become much clearer. If one cannot understand Milton, one cannot enjoy him. There is a definite connection between understanding Milton and enjoying him. After reading a few of his sonnets a couple of times, I was able to better appreciate their meaning. I will focus specifically on Sonnets VII and XV.
In Sonnet VII, “How Soon Hath Time,” Milton conveys his feeling that time is “…the subtle thief of youth…”(1). I enjoyed this work the most, as it makes much sense and is still applicable to life almost four hundred years after it was written. This sonnet also focuses on Milton’s understanding that at twenty-three years of age he has not reached manhood, though it may seem so by his appearance. Milton sees this point in his life as the season of spring. This makes much sense if comparing life to the seasons of the year. It may be said that one is born in the winter and the earlier stages of one’s life are parallel to the progression of these cold months. As one reaches maturity they are progressing into spring. This is where Milton seems to take issue with the notion that at twenty-three years old, in the “spring” of his life, he should be entering his manhood.
“But my late spring no bud or blossom shew’th”(4). Though he should be mature as he enters the “spring” of his life, he does not feel as though he is ready for this, though time does.
“Toward which Time leads me, and the will of Heaven…”(13). Here Milton knows that time will inevitably lead him to Heaven. One cannot escape the passing of time nor death. Milton shows a great understanding of time and mortality in this line. After reading this a handful of times, I was able to better understand what Milton was trying to convey to his readers and enjoy his message.
The next sonnet that I found enjoyable after reading and understanding, was Sonnet XV, “On the Lord General Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester. In this work, Milton has an ironic or maybe better, a sarcastic tone towards General Fairfax.
Fairfax, whose name in arms through Europe rings,
Filling each mouth with envy or with praise,
And all her jealous monarchs with amaze,
And rumors loud that daunt remotest kings…(lines 1-4)
In this passage, Milton is showing the power, fear, awe and jealousy that the name, General Fairfax evoked in many. Fairfax must have been a warrior that conquered peoples and nations throughout Europe. The sarcasm arrives in lines 9-10 when Milton says, “O yet a nobler task awaits thy hand;/For what can war but endless war still breed…”(lines 9-10). What is sarcastic here is that though so many revered General Fairfax, his conquests had done nothing but create more war. He is not so great or heroic as many in Europe believed him to be.
“In vain doth valor bleed…”(line 13). Here, I think Milton does a great job summarizing his sentiments about Fairfax and his insight into the seemingly endless cycle of war that Fairfax was feeding. As chivalrous as he may have seemed through his journeys and triumphs, his efforts were in vain, for they were only creating more blood and war.
I greatly enjoyed this work after understanding it due its lyrical value. Milton said a lot here about the power Europe had during his life and Europe’s feelings that they could rule the world with conquests like those of General Fairfax, but what would that do, except create an air of hostility, war and bloodshed.
I do still find Milton difficult to understand, I do enjoy the sonnets that I have written about here. His, Paradise Lost was at times confusing and I did not find it terribly interesting and his Samson Agonistes, I was unable to get through the first few pages without wondering what I had just read. Milton’s longer, later works are the ones that seem more complex and more incomprehensible. The earlier sonnets are the works of Milton that I found to be the easiest to understand and the most enjoyable. For one to enjoy these works though, one must understand them. It took many readings and much time to extract what I was able to. I am sure other people have entirely different interpretations of what was met in his writings, but that is part of the enjoyment of poetry; its’ ability to have many different meanings, to different people.