Earlier this year I made a stop at Open Books downtown and found a book by Wislawa Szymborska for cheap. I really liked it, and before I knew it found I had read it all the way through. So that got me on this poetry kick. I read some Mary Oliver and some Hafiz. I found a couple of good anthologies of modern and contemporary poetry, too, and was working through those. And then I was in Uncharted Books in Logan Square and I saw this copy of Milton on the shelf. I was hit with this lightning bolt thought "I could really get into Milton!" It was like, yeah he's totally different from today's poetry. Today's poetry is kind of water-color-y and cryptic and Milton is like this baroque theological fantasy opera drawn by Van Dyck. I felt like it would be a breath of fresh air from the 1600s. Anyway, one of my goals for the year is to read long classics that nobody actually reads anymore and Paradise Lost fits the bill. So Milton it was and is.
Now, to get a better grasp on Milton's works I wanted to know more about the era he lived in. And that got me on this big 17th century kick which lead me to this book called Lord Minimus: The Extraordinary Life of Britain's Smallest man which is a biography of Queen Henrietta Maria's favorite dwarf, Jeffery Hudson. I'll just say: the man's life was incredible. The book is also a window on court life in King Charles' day before he got his head cut off, and it's just plain interesting. They had a lot more monkeys running around than I ever expected they would.
Incidentally, I also am binge-ing (sp?) a lot of Reformation stuff from the 16 and 17th centuries and was reminded that the Baptists, my native denomination, were founded in 1609 and had among their ranks the incredible Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island in 1636 and the first Baptist Church in North America a few years later. Williams was a firm believer in liberty of conscience and freedom of religion as well a separation of church and state and the abolition of slavery. So back in those days Baptists were relatively cool it turns out. Except for those in the South who broke away during the Civil War and became white supremacist shit-heads, which they pretty much are to this day. Thankfully, I don't have to associate with them ever again. Learning some of the early history was cool, though.
Another little eye-opener for me from those halcyon days of yore are the edicts of toleration. They weren't really so tolerant. The Peace of Augsburg, the Treaty of Westphalia--the only included a very prescribed version of freedom of religion. I guess because I've grown up in a country where it is a given that everyone is going to have a different religion and that we will respect that so long as they aren't shit-heads about it, when I see these curbed "tolerance" agreements I'm just...totally shocked. It really puts the First Amendment in a bright context and shows how important it is. Millions of people died and then some one comes along and writes that one sentence and it's like...shit, why didn't we just do that all along?
I don't want to end on such a downer, but that's what I've been up to lately. Oh! I can give you links. Here area some links.
You should be able to find these at your local library. Try
Wislawa Szymborska -- Amazing contemporary poetry. An instant favorite. http://bit.ly/2tg6O4c
Hafiz -- the great classical Persian poet. This volume has the best translations and original Persian text on the facing page. Introduction has a lot of good info, too! :) http://bit.ly/2uxfCCZ
Mary Oliver -- this is a book she wrote about meter and all that good stuff in poetry. Great refresher! I would be struggling through Milton without her explanation of blank verse. I knew this stuff but I def needed this book to jog my memory.
Lord Minimus -- Seriously this book is amazing. I have this feeling GRRM used this guy as inspiration for Tyrion. http://bit.ly/2uxbT8m
John Milton -- I'm still trying to figure out what it is I like about this guy. I dunno. I like the Miltonic dialect, the iambs, the sort of Jack Kirby meets South Park adventure story aspect of Paradise Lost. I guess the poetry feels very direct. Maybe it is that it is just exotic enough. Written in English so I can understand it, but from another country and another century so it peaks my curiosity. http://bit.ly/2uxg6ZP