In Search of Milton's 'Paradise Lost'
Joe Moshenska travels in John Milton's footsteps, 350 years after the publication of Paradise Lost, to see how the poem was influenced by the real people and places he encountered.
Joe Moshenska travels in John Milton's footsteps, 350 years after the publication of Paradise Lost, to understand how the real people and places he encountered helped to shape his poetic imagination and inspired the divine universe of his poem.
Writing Paradise Lost, the epic poem that tells the story of the fall of humankind, was an out-of-body experience for Milton. Although he was a blind, beleaguered old man by the time he composed the poem, he didn't see this as an obstacle - every night his muse would visit him while he slept and deposit the next parcel of verse in his mind.
Milton's imagination took him out into the farthest reaches of the universe, but also back into his own past, returning compulsively to his youthful travels through France and on to Italy, where he had met the great astronomer, Galileo Galilei.
Joe begins his journey at the cottage in Chalfont St Giles, where Milton found his muse and wrote large parts of the poem towards the end of his life. He then visits the Wren Library of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, which contains an early attempt to write Paradise Lost as a drama. This incredible manuscript gives Joe a glimpse of Milton as a young and uncertain poet, struggling to find his voice and vocation. Finally, Joe travels to Florence where Milton met Galileo, by then blind and under house arrest, who became Milton's exemplar for speaking truth to power, and was the only contemporary to be named in Paradise Lost - perhaps because Milton realised how closely he came to resemble the astronomer in old age.
Joe's journey reflects how Milton's poem thrums with an extraordinary cacophony of different traditions - biblical, historical and mythic, drawn from his wide imagination and travels.
Readings by Deirdre Mullins
Produced by Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4.