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Milton's Poetical Thought

The Literary Agenda

Maggie Kilgour

Publication Date - March 2022

ISBN: 9780198808824

144 pages
7.7 x 5.1 inches

In Stock


A defence of the importance of poetry that studies one of the greatest poets of the English tradition: John Milton.

The Literary Agenda is a series of short polemical monographs about the importance of literature and of reading in the wider world and about the state of literary education inside schools and universities. The category of 'the literary' has always been contentious. What is clear, however, is how increasingly it is dismissed or is unrecognised as a way of thinking or an arena for thought. It is sceptically challenged from within, for example, by the sometimes rival claims of cultural history, contextualized explanation, or media studies. It is shaken from without by even greater pressures: by economic exigency and the severe social attitudes that can follow from it; by technological change that may leave the traditional forms of serious human communication looking merely antiquated. For just these reasons this is the right time for renewal, to start reinvigorated work into the meaning and value of literary reading.

Why would anyone read John Milton today? To many, poetry in general is an irrelevant and even irresponsible luxury that we cannot afford in a time of environmental and social crisis. The work of a seventeenth-century 'Puritan' might seem especially obscure and out of touch with our needs. But this book argues that Milton offers us one of the most powerful arguments for the importance of poetry today, both representing in his poetry and demonstrating through his own life, the transformative and sustaining force of the human imagination even in times of greatest upheaval. Writing out of his own experience of loss and disappointment, he insists that poetry is a form of knowledge, a way of seeing and understanding the world around us, others, and indeed ourselves. He uses the resources of poetry--its language, imagery, and forms--to challenge and shake us up, making us think in unfamiliar ways and expanding our imagination and our sense of the possibilities in our lives. Milton insists that poetry gives us knowledge of truths we otherwise would never apprehend; it enriches the experience of both writers and readers and makes us creative and fully realized human beings.


  • Uses Milton to defend the value of poetry in a world that only measures value economically
  • Accessible to undergraduates and general readers, and helps Milton scholars see how to reach new audiences
  • Offers close readings of Milton's works

About the Author(s)

Maggie Kilgour, Molson Professor of English, McGill University

Maggie Kilgour is a prize-winning teacher at McGill University where she is Molson Professor of English. A lover of poetry since she started reading, she is interested in all forms of literature but has written especially on Milton, the gothic novel, the reception of the classical tradition, and cannibalism.

Table of Contents

    Preface: Milton's Luxurious Imagination
    1. Born to Write
    2. The Poet's Paradise
    3. Milton's Readers
    Further Reading