Happy Birthday John Milton!

Ashley Thorne

The poet who brought us through hell and back again—all in iambic pentameter of course—was born on December 9, 1608. When we at NAS realized the import of today’s date—John Milton’s four hundredth birthday, we immediately began to celebrate. We brought in an apple cake and lighted 400 candles, each of which is now rapidly dripping wax all over the icing. “Make a wish, John! Blow them out, quick!” Alas, the birthday man is not here to revel with us. Perhaps he is in paradise. Perhaps he went to one of the other places depicted so vividly in his poetry. We don’t know. And what would he wish for? An exhibition at the Morgan Library? A Grand Paradise Lost Costume Ball in Brooklyn? A marathon reading of Milton’s epic?

Well, we don’t know that either. In any case, we take this opportunity to remember with gratitude how John Milton gave us some of the greatest poetry in the history of Western civilization. His works deserve to be read by every American as keys to Western heritage, if not merely for exposure to his extraordinary transformation of English into a language resplendent, grave, overpowering, light, or magnificent, and as fine as anything in classical languages.

 According to Wikipedia, Milton, like Shakespeare in his day, coined new words now familiar to us. Self-esteem is one. Oh, Milton, if you only knew how this one would eventually hijack education. Pandemonium is another—more appropriate today’s college campus than it ever was as Lucifer’s palace.  Jubilant and dreary are others. Just imagine the world without a jubilant song or a dreary countenance! 

Milton was of course, not just a great poet, but a scholar who concerned himself with public affairs; an intellectual who didn’t confine himself to narrow topics; and a fierce defender of freedom of the press. The National Association of Scholars is proud to include Milton in the tradition of reasoned scholarship that we defend. We honor his memory today—and look forward to a whole year of Miltonian revelry!

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