Beautiful spring day. Let us now praise famous authors:
Claire Tomalin admires John Milton:
Paradise Lost has held me in thrall ever since I first read it in my teens. I have reread it at irregular intervals, always with pleasure and renewed astonishment. I was no more a believer in the Christian myths when I first read it than I am now, but Milton sets out his version of the creation and the fall of man with such assurance and vigour, he invests the story with so much passion, the scope of his imagination is so wide, that the great structure of the poem carries you along with an irresistible momentum. Even the dim patches and the thinness of the figures of Jesus and God hardly slow you down. The vastness of the spaces through which his aerial beings move; the brilliant ambivalences of the villain who is Satan, soliloquising dramatically; the enchanted perspectives of paradise with its two freshly formed residents who busy themselves pruning roses, heaping up vegetarian meals for the entertainment of archangel visitors, and setting out the ground rules for marriage – none of this has any parallel in English poetry. Milton makes you think, provokes you into arguments about power, good and evil, about responsibility, innocence and the right to knowledge.
A new edition of Shakespeare’s poetry is reviewed:
Is the greatest writer in the English language primarily a poet or a dramatist? The easy answer, that he is both, is no answer at all. The better one, which most practicing poets of whatever age have endorsed, is that he is a poet who, wonderfully well equipped at adapting stories and devising theatrical situations, also can tame the lightning of poetry for stage performance.
…Why, they ask, do convenors of Shakespeare conferences, academics in general and almost all authorities of sententious disposition ignore the poems, concentrating on the plays? He arrived at fame and consciousness first as a poet, and a remarkably realistic and accessible one. The introduction puts this directly – “Although both Venus and Lucrece are more patterned and verbally complex than the plays, they are considerably more naturalistic”. Viewed together, the two poems offer unique opportunities to link Shakespeare with the great Renaissance painters of Italy and France.
And speaking of Shakespeare, Henry Jaffa argues in “Macbeth and the Moral Universe” that
In Macbeth Shakespeare presented the moral phenomena in such a way that those who respond to his art must, in some way or another, become better human beings.
Some literature seems to invite immorality, however, in the form of theft:
The coin of the realm is now, and has always been, the fiction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters.
So obviously literature (and other arts) won’t necessarily make you a better person, so what’s the point? Robert Fulford explains his faith in the arts:
Rebecca West, a great journalist of the last century, remarked (rather like Antonio Salieri discussing Mozart in Amadeus) that “the power to create a work of art, like a good complexion, is frequently bestowed on the undeserving.” So my faith, rather like Christianity, comes with no guarantees of virtue or enhanced intelligence.
What, then, does it guarantee? Those who give it their time and love are offered the chance to live more expansive, more enjoyable and deeper lives.
“Offered the chance”—that’s all. We still have free will to reject the offering, just as with the grace of God.