John Milton was a poet of radical politics living in one of the most volatile times in English history. Paradise Lost, his epic work published in 1667, can be interpreted as political allegory - the fall of man in Eden reflecting the lost paradise of Milton's cherished Republic. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy of books takes its inspiration directly from Paradise Lost.
Born on Bread Street in London in 1608, Milton grew up in a prosperous family. He studied at Cambridge, where he was nicknamed The Lady of Christ's - in reference to his long hair and sensitive manner. After finishing his studies, Milton toured the continent, visiting European republics and observed country-wide Catholicism. His tour was cut short in 1639 by news of unrest in Britain and the prospect of civil war. On his return Milton turned to prose for the Republican cause. The rise of the printing press meant pamphlets were at the forefront of this revolution, and Milton became the chief polemicist and pamphleteer for Cromwell's Commonwealth.
In 1642, aged 33, Milton married 16-year old Mary Powell, who bore him four children. Milton was plagued in his later years by failing eyesight and many of his poems were dictated to assistants, one of whom was the poet Andrew Marvell. By 1654 he was blind. The English Republic collapsed on Oliver Cromwell's death. After the restoration of the monarch in 1660, Milton was imprisoned and, though later released, he only very narrowly escaped execution.
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven
The Nation's Favourite Poet