Milton and the Baroque by Murray Roston (auth.)

By Murray Roston (auth.)

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Outwardly it resembles the standard epic invocation to the muse, but in its emotional resonance and in the nature of its appeal, it reveals the commitment of the poet to his larger and more imposing task. Significantly, the prophet he selects as his model for such mortal inspiration is not, as one might have expected, one of the major visionaries, an Isaiah or Ezekiel representing the finest traditions of biblical poetry and imaginative fire. 29 Instead he by-passes them in favour of Moses, a personality not normally associated with poetry nor even with the full flowering of scriptural prophecy.

From the opening moment of the Reformation, Luther had singled out for attack the un-Christian ostentation of the Roman church and the sale of indulgences to pay for the building of an extravagant St. Peter's. When Rome responded by deliberately reaffirming its policies the Reformers grew increasingly vociferous in their condemnation, continuing their attacks on the 'idolatry' of Catholic art throughout the following century. Such hostility would seem, therefore, to disqualify the Jesuit baroque, associated with gilded pillars and jewelled reliquaries, as the mode to be adopted for a specifically Puritan epic.

Here is height extended above height, splendour above splendour, until such titles as 'Immutable', 'Immortal', 'Infinite' become transformed from abstract theological terms into imaginatively forceful images. Ultimately they must remain beyond mortal grasp, but the baroque artist takes us as close as is humanly possible to their physical realisation, overwhelming us with the vision, and suggesting by extension the energised brilliance that lies beyond: Thee Father, first they sung Omnipotent, Immutable, Immortal, Infinite, Eternal King: thee Author of all being, Fountain of Light, thyself invisible Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sit'st Thron'd inaccessible, but when thou shad'st The full blaze of thy beams, and through a cloud Drawn round about thee like a radiant Shrine, Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appear, Yet dazzle Heav'n, that brightest Seraphim Approach not, but with both wings veil thir eyes.

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