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Milton: Lecture 2 Transcript September 10, 2007 << back Professor John Rogers: It's fitting that the first poem of Milton's that we study in this class is "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." In a number of ways, it's both a first poem and it's a poem about firsts. It isn't exactly, though, the first poem that Milton wrote. As you can see from your -- from actually any -- edition, any modern edition, of Milton which arranges the poems more or less chronologically -- you can tell that the young Milton had actually written quite a few things before he wrote what we call colloquially the Nativity Ode, but most of these early pieces are written in the Latin that Milton had perfected at school and these earliest of Milton's Latin poems are lyrics. They're of an incredibly impressive technical proficiency and they are absolutely soaked with the references to the classical writers that Milton had been ingesting from his earliest youth. Milton had also written a couple of very short poems in English . But there's an important and, I think, a very real sense in which Milton wanted to make it seem as if the Nativity Ode were the first poem that he had written. There's also an important and, I think, a very real sense in which Milton wanted to make it seem -- and obviously this is a much more difficult feat -- wanted to make it seem as if the Nativity Ode were the first poem that anyone had written. Now Milton was born in 1608 and he wrote the Nativity Ode along with the Sixth Elegy , the Elegia Sexta, that we read for today in December of 1629, a couple of weeks presumably after he turned twenty-one. It wasn't until 1645 at the age of thirty-six or thirty-seven that Milton would publish his first volume of poems, which he titled simply Poems . And it wouldn't be another twenty-two years after that until Milton actually published Paradise Lost. Now I am mentioning these dates here because the dates on which Milton wrote and published his poems, the temporal sequence of these publications, have a peculiar and particular importance for the poet. As early as 1629 (that's the date we're in now) Milton is thinking of himself as a poet who has not yet published . He delays for an unusually long time his poetic entrance into print, and he's musing almost continually on what it means to be a poet who has delayed his publication: to be a poet who's waiting for something, to be a poet who's always looking to the future to the poem that he hasn't yet written, to the future and to the readers he hasn't yet attained, and maybe most gloriously, a poet who's looking to the future to the fame that he has not yet successfully secured or secured at all because no one at this point knows John Milton. When in 1645 Milton finally publishes that first volume of poetry, the first poem that he places in this volume is the Nativity Ode , our poem today. And under this title, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," appears -- as you can see from your text -- appears the subtitle, "composed 1629." Milton's taking pains here, and he does this with very few other poems, to let us know precisely when it is that he's written it. "Composed 1629" --
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