Marvell on Milton
Andrew Marvell composed this poem in honor of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and it became a poetic preface to the 1674 edition of the poem.
On Mr. Milton’s Paradise Lost
by Andrew Marvell
When I beheld the Poet blind, yet bold,
In slender Book his vast Design unfold,
Messiah Crown’d, Gods Reconcil’d Decree,
Rebelling Angels, the Forbidden Tree,
Heav’n, Hell, Earth, Chaos, All; the Argument
Held me a while misdoubting his Intent,
That he would ruine (for I saw him strong)
The sacred Truths to Fable and old Song,
(So Sampson groap’d the Temples Posts in spight)
The World o’rewhelming to revenge his Sight.
Yet as I read, soon growing less severe,
I lik’d his Project, the success did fear;
Through that wide Field how he his way should find
O’re which lame Faith leads Understanding blind;
Lest he perplext the things he would explain,
And what was easie he should render vain.
Or if a Work so infinite he spann’d,
Jealous I was that some less skilful hand
(Such as disquiet alwayes what is well,
And by ill imitating would excell)
Might hence presume the whole Creations day
To change in Scenes, and show it in a Play.
Pardon me, Mighty Poet, nor despise
My causeless, yet not impious, surmise.
But I am now convinc’d, and none will dare
Within thy Labours to pretend a Share.
Thou hast not miss’d one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit:
So that no room is here for Writers left,
But to detect their Ignorance or Theft.
That Majesty which through thy Work doth Reign
Draws the Devout, deterring the Profane.
And things divine thou treats of in such state
As them preserves, and Thee in violate.
At once delight and horrour on us seize,
Thou singst with so much gravity and ease;
And above humane flight dost soar aloft,
With Plume so strong, so equal, and so soft.
The Bird nam’d from that Paradise you sing
So never Flags, but alwaies keeps on Wing.
Where couldst thou Words of such a compass find?
Whence furnish such a vast expense of Mind?
Just Heav’n Thee, like Tiresias, to requite,
Rewards with Prophesie thy loss of Sight.
Well might thou scorn thy Readers to allure
With tinkling Rhime, of thy own Sense secure;
While the Town-Bays writes all the while and spells,
And like a Pack-Horse tires without his Bells.
Their Fancies like our bushy Points appear,
The Poets tag them; we for fashion wear.
I too transported by the Mode offend,
And while I meant to Praise thee, must Commend.
Thy verse created like thy Theme sublime,
In Number, Weight, and Measure, needs not Rhime.