19 Apr 2021

A lecture by Boris Aronstein: John Milton: From Metaphysical Existentialism to Spiritual Freedom

On April 16, founder and president of TechInput Group of Companies, visiting professor at the Moscow State University, the National Research University Higher School of Economics and the New Economic School, as well as several US universities, publisher of a number of bilingual US magazines, and literary translator Boris Aronstein met with the readership of the Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature where he gave a lecture titled: John Milton: From Metaphysical Existentialism to Spiritual Freedom”.

While Milton’s legacy of prose is significant, it is his poetical gift that had a greater influence on all subsequent poetry in the English language. With a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, he referred to his prose works as the achievements of his “left hand.” Like his illustrious literary forebears with whom he invites comparison, Milton used his poetry to address issues of religion and politics. He placed himself in a line of poets whose art was a distinct outlet for their public voice and who filled even pastoral poems with political references, primarily advocating public enlightenment, not unlike the city-states of Greek antiquity or Renaissance Italy.

Milton’s reputation as one of the greatest English poets became uncontested soon after his death in 1674. While most of the critical attention was directed at Paradise Lost, his other literary works drew extensive commentary as well. Paradise Lost, an epic poem concerning the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, is broadly recognized as one of the greatest poems ever written in the world. From its first edition onward, the epic generated critical debate on theological matters and evoked political comment prompted by the portrayal of the fallen angel named Satan, the poem’s main protagonist. 

The epic had an exceptional influence on all subsequent literature:  it inspired other epic poems, like Alexander Pope ‘s The Rape of the Lock, William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, John Keats’ poem Endymion, and Mary Shelley’s novelFrankenstein.   Milton’s poetry deeply influenced Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake. The latter illustrated one edition of Paradise Lost. Later, however, Milton received criticism from T.S. Eliot who asserted that Milton’s language was “artificial”.  

With all that, strange as it may seem, Milton’s poetry comes across as a poetic antipode of modernistic trend developed much later (nearly three hundred years thereafter) represented, among others, by T.S. Eliot with his “stream of fragmented consciousness”, and at the same, time, representing its solid spiritual base, Boris Aronstein says in a statement about the poet.

Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature is a federal library specializing in literature in foreign languages. Back in 1921, it was started as a Neophilologica library. Presently, the library a unique collection of foreign literature, which includes books and periodical literature in over 140 languages of the world.

A lecture by Boris Aronstein: John Milton: From Metaphysical Existentialism to Spiritual Freedom