Over this past semester in my Introduction to Creative Writing class, I struggled a lot with poetry. I just have the hardest time trying to piece out the impulse to poeticize from the impulse to write, and I think the class just confused me further. So I’m much more comfortable with epic poetry, so easy to define away from prose and so delightfully old-fashioned, and that’s why, even though I shy away from poetry, two examples have ended up on my reading list.
The Aeneid by Virgil
In dramatic and narrative power, Virgil’s Aeneid is the equal of its great Homeric predecessors, The Iliad and The Odyssey. It surpasses them, however, in the intense sympathy it displays for its human actors–a sympathy that makes events such as Aeneas’s escape from Troy and search for a new homeland, the passion and the death of Dido, the defeat of Turnus, and the founding of Rome among the most memorable in literature.
In the comments for my review of Black Ships, Jenny of Jenny’s Books told me that I should really read The Aeneid. I’ve never been forced to read any classical poetry for class, so I just kind of entirely missed the classical canon, and I think it’s high time to correct that.
Jenny at Shelf Love enjoyed it, especially the illumination reading a source text gives inspired texts; Tiger at All-Consuming Media also enjoyed it, although she notes that the piece was written as political propaganda.
The Aeneid was written between 29 and 19 BC.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
In Paradise Lost, Milton produced a poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution—Paradise Lost has an apparent ambivalence towards authority which has led to intense debate about whether it manages to “justify the ways of God to men”, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.
I first heard of Paradise Lost as a kid, when I was reading His Dark Materials. While the posts haven’t gone up yet, I’ve recently relistened to that series via audiobook, and now I’m intrigued by this less understandable gap in my education. Like Jenny’s reaction to The Aeneid, I think this is going to make the world make a little more sense by the time I’m through…
Paradise Lost was first published in 1667.