The semester has begun . . .
. . . and I'm wondering why more graduate students don't want to read all of Milton's Paradise Lost.
Who can resist a poem that begins:
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
These 26 opening lines to Paradise Lost, Book 1 should entice anyone, right?
Students take one look and think, "Twelve books of this stuff? Twelve books in one poem? Why does it take so long to justify God's ways?"
Length raises suspicions that God's ways are not easy to justify, maybe not justifiable, and likely don't justify the effort.
The good new is that Milton takes his time because he's got a great story to tell.
Actor John Basinger knows this and has taken the effort not just to read the poem but to memorize and perform it.
In December 2001, he gave a 3-day, one-man performance of all twelve books at Three Rivers Community College. He plans to give another performance of all twelve books on December 9, 2008, the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth. Meanwhile, anyone interested in tapes or discs of his 2001 performance can contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would bet that his performance justifies the effort.