The Pattern of Milton’s ‘Nativity Ode’ (1940)
‘The Puritans’, writes Professor Woodhouse, ‘(though in different degrees) were men who had undergone a religious experience, whose effect was to bestow a new unity of feeling upon their thoughts.’1 As he observes, this experience of a sudden renewal of spirit, mind and purpose, after confusion and paralysis of will, animated the apparently cold formulations of Puritan theology. Indeed, so important was it in the Puritan scheme that it inevitably received its own formulation, patterned on the experiences of Moses, Elijah, and St Paul, and vividly, yet still typically, presented in Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. After a life of cynical carelessness, the sinner was oppressed by a terrifying sense of human corruption and of his own especial depravity; he contemplated with horrified fascination the torments to which he felt himself justly damned — a symbol of his torturing mental paralysis; he then began hopelessly to desire peace through God’s mercy and to shift the weight of his oppression by striving to accept the divine will, whatever it might be; ultimately, if he were one of the chosen, the weight was removed by his recognition of the significance of Christ’s incarnation and vicarious suffering, and he experienced a transporting illumination of spirit which neutralized his self-accusation and produced the calm certainty and the unity of purpose which made the Puritan a dangerous and inflexible opponent. From the moment of his illumination he dated his spiritual rebirth; and he might prove his claim to saintship (or be called upon to prove it) by giving an account of his experience and of the precise occasion on which he was illuminated.
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- 1.Puritanism and Liberty, ed. A. S. P. Woodhouse (1938) p. 38.Google Scholar
- 2.William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (New York, 1938) p. 297.Google Scholar
- 10.See J. H. Hanford, ‘The Youth of Milton: an interpretation of his early literary development’, in Studies in Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne, by members of the English Department of the University of Michigan (New York and London, 1925); E. M. W. Tillyard, Milton (1930) pp. 35–42; Haller, op. cit.Google Scholar
- 15.See the annotations by A. W. Verity in The Cambridge Milton for Schools, II vols (Pitt Press series: Cambridge, 1891–9),Google Scholar
- by Merritt Y. Hughes in Paradise Regained, The Minor Poems and Samson Agonistes (New York, 1937), and by A. S. Cook in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, XV 307–68Google Scholar