Milton's Selected Poetry and Prose - John Milton Milton’s religious poetry masks a more defiant, unsubmissive soul. In Aeropagitica, he rails against censorship. In Samson Agonistes, he expands on the last 10 verses from Judges 16 to show a Samson who, blinded, chained and without strength, rediscovers his will to resist. In The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates he advocates for the right of the governed to overthrow tyrants and justifies regicide. Milton was kind of a badass. At least on paper.

However, he is also pretty boring. Maybe it’s the poet in him, but his papers on topics such as divorce and the value of the Commonwealth are verbose and overdone. Paradise Regained lacks all the drama seen in the first few books of Paradise Lost and presents an uncomplicated Jesus in the face of devilish temptations which, apparently, were not very tempting. As for his collection of shorter poems, unless you really are in to literary criticism and dissecting poetry, they probably won’t resonate much (with exceptions for L'Allegro and Il Penseroso).

At the end of the Norton Critical Edition, There are about two hundred pages dedicated to short papers analyzing Milton’s various works. Most of them I could do without, though I would highly recommend Sharon Achinstein’s paper Samson Agonsites and the Drama of Dissent starting on page 626.

Milton mixed his religious convictions with a strong belief in the rights of individuals to shape their own lives. Though I didn’t really enjoy many of his writings, he earns respect. In his eloquent defense for free speech, he leaves the means for his own impressive legacy:
For books are a not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do not preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively and as vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon’s teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Aeropagitica, pg. 341