CLIO, Fall 1992 v22 n1 p67(14)

Epic warfare in Cowley and Milton. Rosenberg, D.M.

Abstract: Both Abraham Cowley in 'The Civil War' and John Milton in 'Paradise Lost' adapted the classical epic form to the historical circumstances of the 17th century. Cowley, a royalist, was ideologically opposite to Milton, a Puritan. Cowley used the epic to glorify the royalist heroes of the English Civil War, but his uncompleted work was defeated along with the royalist cause, whereas Milton's religious perspective enabled him to rise above current events and recognize the futility of war. The two poets' use of panegyric, satirical and elegiac modes is compared.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1992 Indiana University, Purdue University of Fort Wayne

This study will compare Abraham Cowley's The Civil War and john Milton's Paradise Lost, two epic treatments of war written in the mid-seventeenth century. The analysis of their common and distinctive modes will reveal how these poems adhere to the established form of the epic genre and at the same time, on the level of their political and cultural subtexts, reflect the historical situation in which they were written. That is, this analysis will examine the historical adaptation of the classic epic to seventeenth-century conditions, and explain how the poets' ideological consciousness historicized the content of their epics, particularly with respect to the English Civil War.

Cowley's presentation of epic warfare bears the ideological weight of his loyalty to early Stuart political, religious, and social institutions, for example, the divine-right absolutism of monarchy, the ecclesiastical authority of the Church of England, and the hierarchical social order that sustained the ruling elite of the court and hereditary aristocracy. The purpose of Cowley's epic was to glorify the military heroes who defended the throne, altar, and court in order to reclaim and assert their primacy over the forces of revolutionary political and religious dissent. Milton's Paradise Lost, on the other hand, is a biblical and Puritan epic, which undermines the premises and conventions of orthodox royalism and the courtly and chivalric ideals of the royalist aristocracy. Insisting upon God's providential p an, Milton's post-civil War ideology is based on revelation and spiritual revolution. He evaluates heroism on the basis of New Testament principles, and ultimately transcends conventional martial heroism and repudiates the violence and futility of physical warfare. The ideological meanings of these two epics may be examined in the poets' use of specific conventions and thematic elements, most particularly in their representation of exemplary heroic virtue and deeds that are of central importance to the genre, and the incorporation of other literary genres, namely the panegyric, satire, and elegy.

Although Cowley and Milton were contemporaries, born in London and educated at Cambridge, the two poets had diametrically opposed political and religious views. By the time that the Civil War became imminent, Cowley had already gained a reputation as a royalist-Anglican writer of panegyric court poetry and anti-Puritan satire; before Milton started Paradise Lost in 1658, he had for many years dedicated his intellectual energies in the Puritan cause, writing radical pamphlets advocating root-and-branch reformation of the Church and attacking royal absolutism. Cowley had been expelled from Puritan-controlled Cambridge, and moved to the Royalist headquarters at Oxford, where he began his partisan treatment of Royalist military heroes, The Civil War (1642-43), an epic that he never completed.(1) Milton, on the other hand, had served the Puritan Commonwealth as Latin Secretary to Council of State. At the beginning of the Restoration in 1660, his Eikonoklastes and Defenso prima were publicly banned and burned by order of Charles II. Milton was arrested and imprisoned because he was an active participant in the Puritan revolution, a member of the Council and author of Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which justified the deposition and execution of Charles 1. Had it not been for the intercession of friends in Council and House of Commons who obtained his release, Milton could well have suffered life imprisonment or execution.

Despite the great differences in their political ideologies and activities, both Cowley and Milton were Renaissance humanists, men of learning and poets who turned to the traditional form of the epic to treat imaginatively the themes of heroic virtue and deeds, and the warfare between good and evil. In these poems each had demonstrated his familiarity with the epic, having adapted the traditional conventions from the great models of the genre and transformed their borrowings into something new and of their own age. Throughout their narration of warfare, they had intermingled motifs from the Greek and Latin epics, the Italian and English chivalric epics, as well as allusions to their own contemporary experience.

While both Cowley and Milton were indebted to the classical epic, each owed a great deal to other, very different, sources. The Civil War clearly shows the influence of the discursive modes of Cowley's own time, the pamphlets and newspapers, especially Mercurius Aulicus, the official Royalist journal published in Oxford. The narrative of the angelic warfare in Paradise Lost, on the other hand, has as its major sources the Revelation of St. john and many of the Epistles, and those Puritan theologians and preachers who modeled their images of spiritual warfare after them.(2) They are images of war describing Christ's struggle with Satan in the human heart. Whereas Cowley's heroic narrative reflects contemporary Royalist propaganda, Milton's biblical epic shows the impact of the Puritan sermon and the visionary eschatology of the Christian apocalypse.

Alastair Fowler argues that both The Civil War and Paradise Lost are in fact "antigenres" to the classical epic. He writes that one of the oldest of these antigenres is "the epic of recent action," which he illustrates by citing the poems of Lucan and Cowley. Because Cowley's poem was concerned with actions in recent history and had a civil war as its subject, Cowley emulated Lucan, whose De Bello Civili (Pharsalia) provided him with an example of heroic verse narrating recent military events and expressing a viewpoint that was ardently partisan. Paradise Lost, according to Fowler, is another type of antigenre, a biblical epic that "answered the pagan repertoire feature by feature," but opposed "to the national or legendary action of the Virgilian epic . . . the redemptive history revealed in Scripture."(3)

Following both contemporary Royalist propaganda and De Bello Civili, Cowley's unfinished poem is determined to a great degree by recent military events of the Civil War, from the king's raising his standard at Nottingham to the Battle of Newbury. Milton was less constrained by a literal treatment of recent battles, sieges, and skirmishes.(4) For Milton, the theory of accommodation was a basic premise for his narrative of the warfare in Heaven. Raphael, Milton's narrator of the angelic war, explains to Adam that he will "relate / To human sense th'invisible exploits / Of warring spirits . . . By lik'ning spiritual to corporal forms, / As may express them best" (5.564-74).(5)

Although the physical warfare in Paradise Lost is not historical or literal as it is in Cowley's epic, Milton's metaphorical war has bearing on both the Civil War and the Restoration. After the failure of the Puritan revolution, Milton sought reassurance in God's providential plan that would ultimately bring about the reign of Christ and his saints. Driven by the need to justify God's ways, Milton gave higher meaning to recent history by relating it to the spiritual warfare of Revelation and the Epistles. Thus his epic treatment of warfare places it on a supernatural, theological plane.(6)

Both Cowley and Milton, deeply read in the classical epic, understood that the traditional epic form was comprehensive, incorporating other literary genres and modes. Thus we find in The Civil War and Paradise Lost heroic narratives that include the poem of praise, the satire, and the elegy, three prevailing modes of the period.

Cowley's epic has many examples of panegyric, the heroic praise of the king and Royalist military leaders. His literary models, in addition to the classical encomium, are the contemporary eulogies for the royal family, nobility, and patrons, reflecting the ideology of court culture. Milton, in his biblical epic, replaces the panegyric with hymns which praise God.

Cowley, in his praise of Charles, shows how God and his angels give their heavenly support to the King's righteous cause. The will of Charles, Defender of the Faith, miraculously conjures up great armies: "When straight whole Armies meet in Charles his right, / How noe man knowes; but here they are, and fight" (1.169-70).(7) At Edgehill "Angells from above . . . would have muster'd in his righteous ayd" (1.175-77).

The panegyric passages in The Civil War demonstrate Cowley's use of devices borrowed from the Caroline court masque. The hovering Cavalier angels at Edgehill, for example, are accompanied by masquelike personifications of Religion, Loyalty, Learning, and the Arts. The Queen of England, "blest Mary," after going abroad to procure arms and munitions, solemnly reunites with her husband at the site of the battle of Edgehill the year before. This is "the Place that Fortune did approve, / To bee the noblest Scene of War and Love." Then "Ten thousand Cupids" descend to chase away "the wandering Spirits of Rebells dead" (1.491-98) in a spectacular tableau reminiscent of Inigo jones's masques at Whitehall whose allegorized mythology celebrated Charles, the embodiment of martial heroism, and Henrietta Maria, the Queen of Beauty and Love. This panegyric passage, like the courtly masque,(8) shows how the king has the miraculous power to create Order from Chaos.

Cowley's panegyric passages place great emphasis upon the courtly and chivalric values of Cavalier heroism. He emphasizes the theme of heroic virtu in his miniature epic portraits of Royalist military heroes. These panegyrics combine the aristocratic ideals of the soldier, the courtier, and the man of learning. William Cavendish, the Earl of Newcastle who commanded the north of England, is a hero who at birth was kissed by "every grace and every Muse," and yet "Soe good a Wit they meant not should excell / In Armes" (1.513-16). George, Lord Digby had received from the goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena, "All that her Armes can dare, and wit can know." He has "gain'd her Gorgons pow'r ore Men, / By's Sword struck dead, astonished by his Pen" (3.229-32). These exemplary Royalist heroes are enlarged beyond nature by Cowley's use of a literary mode that permits, and even requires, extravagant idealization. These leaders are, Cowley says, the "Sonnes of Warre, by whose bold Acts we see, / How great a thing exalted Man may be" (1.415-16).

Milton, in his narration of warfare, does not exalt man, but glorifies God. Francis C. Blessington has noted that there was a "dearth of the epic hymn in England," which he suggests "might be ascribed to the general Anglican neglect of the hymn as a composition outside of biblical psalms and their metrical renditions."(9) In Milton's Puritan epic, however, hymns abound. In his Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham distinguished between two kinds of praise, of men and of the immortal gods. The one, panegyric, praises great men who show "such noble exploites, as they had done in th'affaires of peace & of warre to the benefit of their people and countries." However, panegyric, Puttenham says, is a second degree" of praise. The highest degree is the hymn, the first forme of praise and the highest & stateliest." These are "sung by the Poets as priests."(10) As poet-priest, Milton creates many hymns praising God in his epic. He had argued in The Reason of Church-government that the epic, in addition to inbreeding and cherishing "the seeds of vertu" and allaying "the perturbations of the mind," should "celebrate in glorious and lofty Hymns the throne and equipage of Gods Almightinesse."(11)

Raphael, in narrating the angelic warfare, explains to Adam that he could "relate of thousands, and thir names / Eternize here on Earth," but the angels loyal to God are "contented with thir fame in Heaven" and "Seek not the praise of men" (6.373-76). Before the Son ascends the Father's Chariot to rout the rebel angels, he foretells a victory in which the Saints will circle the holy mount of God and sing to him "Hymns of high praise, and I among them chief" (6.742-45). After the victory, the loyal angels who were Eye-witness of his almighty Acts" advance in joyful celebration and sing hymns of triumph praising Messiah as "Victorious King, / Son, Heir, and Lord" (6.881-86) as he rides "Triumphant through mid Heav'n into the Courts / And Temple of his mighty Father" who receives him in glory from his throne.

Panegyric and satire, the poetry of praise and the poetry of blame, are related but opposing forms of demonstrative rhetoric. The panegyric has an important function in the epic, which praises heroic men and deeds, whereas satire as a form of rebuke presents violations of the epic ideal. Accordingly, Dryden argues that satire is "undoubtedly a species" of heroic poetry.(12)

Much of Cowley's satire, like that of other Cavalier satirists, attacks, by way of caricature, the working-class men in the Parliamentary army. Exemplifying a conservative class-consciousness, Cowley contemptuously ridicules the meanness of their names and vulgar trades, their behavior, especially their fanatic zeal and hypocritical piety. Milton's satire, by contrast, is not directed at social inferiors, but has as its object the sin and vice of great persons, and it is energized by the poet's moral seriousness.

Cowley's satire exaggerates the class alignments of the Civil War, showing that whereas the King drew support from the nobility and gentry, who enjoyed a strong esprit de grade, the Parliamentary forces were made up of tradesmen, shopkeepers, and artisans. His mockheroic catalogue (3.383-454) lists the names of "base Mechanicks" (3.41) who were officers in the Parliamentary army: "What should I here their Great ones Names rehearse? / Low, wretched Names, unfit for noble Verse?" Their occupations suggest, in contrast with those of the Royalist commanders, their social inferiority. The colonels and majors in the Parliamentary army were nothing more than sailors, butchers, dyers, tanners, and tailors. Their moral inferiority is satirically revealed by their conduct both at home and on the battlefield. Before becoming a soldier, Swart the sailor, while drunk, killed his friend and "fled from justice then, worse here t'offend. " At home the butcher Stane had robbed and murdered, but in battle he ran away at the first charge and "In a thick bush hid his unworthy head."

Cowley also ridicules the fanaticism and hypocrisy of the Puritans, caricaturing what he perceives to be their pharisaism. He personifies pride, in a polemic "character," a hypocritical Puritan woman "full of painted Grace." She casts her eyes up "Towards Heaven in holy wise," singing psalms and sanctimoniously praying, but "From her false mouth words did alwayes fly, / Religion, Reformation, Liberty" (2.404-09). He mocks Puritan sectarians as "hot-brained Calvinists" and "Wild men" who deface "Gods Image stampt on Monarchs" and who place above the royal throne "their thundring Pulpits" (3.59-62).

In his satirical catalogue of apparently fictitious rebels killed at Newbury, he gives examples of their irrationality and fraud. These ignorant fanatics, destroyers of crosses and church windows and haters of bishops, are driven by "furious Zeale." Simon Blore, a lowborn woman's tailor has "Turnd lowd Devine," and plays the prophet, speaking of strange visions, "of Beasts, of Hornes, and weekes." In the war, however, his zeal is dedicated "to plunder and the Cause." Cowley concludes his catalogue by directly addressing Simon Blore, whose brain has been singed by a vengeful bullet: "Ah foole! thou'dst better still to have preacht and praised! Much better practiz'd still thine ancient Trade!"

Milton did not share Cowley's aristocratic class bias, but rather argued that in a "free Commonwealth" our "freedom consists in civil rights and advancements of every man according to his merit" (CE, 6.143-44). Moreover, he believed that Christianity was "a homely and Yeomanly Religion" based on "the plaine and homespun verity of Christs Gospell" (CE, 3.25).

Milton believed that satire was not trivial, and its aim should not be limited to the reprehension of an innocuous folly. It ought not to creep into every blind Taphouse that fears a Constable more than a Satyr." If the epic praises what is truly praiseworthy, then satire must blame what is truly evil: "For a Satyr as it was borne out of a Tragedy, so ought to resemble his parentage, to strike high, and adventure dangerously at the most eminent vices among the greatest persons" (CE, 3.329). Milton's epic is admonitory in that it dramatizes evil by showing pride, envy, and wrath in Satan and the rebel angels. This admonitory epic, then, is closely related to tragedy.(13)

The irony that is created by Raphael's retrospective and thus foreknowing account of the warfare is a major source for Milton's satire. As Northrop Frye has suggested, "The chief distinction between irony and satire is that satire is a militant irony; its moral norms are relatively clear, and it assumes standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured."(14) For all its theological and moral seriousness, the narrative account of the war illustrates satire as "militant" irony. Until the Son, the epic ideal, arrives on the third day to end the war, the narration emphasizes what is grotesque and absurd about the battle. This absurdity is the result of Satan's presuming that by "implements of mischief" (6.488) his troops will overwhelm the omnipotent deity. Abdiel exposes Satan's self-deceiving fallacy: "Fool, not to think how vain / Against th'Omnipotent to rise in arms" (6.136-37). Satan's presumption is absurd because God, if he wished, "with solitary hand . . . at one blow / Unaided could have finish't thee (6.140-41). Despite Abdiel's rebuke, Satan continues to presume that as long as the rebel angels feel "Vigor Divine within them" they "can allow / Omnipotence to none" (6.158-60). Little wonder that God, "smiling to h's only Son," says ironically, "Nearly it now concerns us to be sure / Of our Omnipotence" (5.718-22). The Son replies that the Father "justly hast in derision" his foes, "and Secure / Laugh'st at thir vain desires and tumults vain" (5.735-37).

The "perverse commotion" (6.706) of the war is narrated in mock-heroic idiom. Resembling the heroic style, it becomes a vehicle of ridicule through grotesque incongruity. With ironic parallels to passages in Homer and Virgil, it shows how satire, as Dryden argued, is indeed "a species" of heroic poetry. The impersonal technology of modern warfare is a means by which the individual's prowess is absurdly reduced, and thus devalues what had been proclaimed by Satan as military heroism. Milton's satire, with its hyperbolic, fantastic, and grotesque features, undermines Satan's pretensions.

This is an "Intestine War in Heav'n" (6.259), the adjective carrying two meanings. One relates to internal affairs, particularly civil wars; the other denotes the lower part of the alimentary canal, the guts or bowels, from the pyloric end of the stomach to the anus. Part of the satire in the account of the "Intestine War" is wittily scatological. Thus a descriptive passage of cannon exploits denigrating physiological language:

From those deep-throated Engines belcht, whose roar

Embowell'd with outrageous noise the Air,

And all her entrails tore, disgorging foul

Thir devilish glut ...

Of Iron Globes. (6.586-90) This Rabelaisan or Swiftian description of cannon fire as a detonating bowel evacuation satirizes the vainglory of the Satanic rebels.

Milton's use of the term "recoil" also bears meanings that contribute to his satirical perspective. Before the invention of hydraulic dampening, the shock of the recoil would drive an artillery piece backwards. The term denotes the kickback of a piece of ordnance by the force of the discharge. It also denotes the act of springing back in fear or revulsion. Milton uses the figure of the recoiling cannon several times, playing with the various meanings of the term in his characterization of Satan, the inventor of artillery and victim of his own compulsions. When struck by Abdiel in combat, Satan "back recoil'd" (6.194) from the impact of the force, amazing his fellow rebels by this exposure of physical weakness and fear. After his defeat in the war, he is driven to avenge himself against God. The poet describes his psychological condition in which his "tumultuous breast" is like "a devilish Engine" that "back recoils / Upon himself" (4.16-18). That is, Satan rebounds almost mechanically to the starting point of hatred and aggression that led to his initiating the war, and each attack inflicts more suffering on him than on his enemies. Finally, Satan bitterly acknowledges in soliloquy that, although he had "aspired to / The heighth of Delty," he is "now constrain'd / Into a Beast." He describes revenge as being at first sweet, but then he uses the cannon metaphor, admitting that "Bitter ere long back on itself recoils." Yet, because he is trapped by desperation, he adds: "Let it, I reck not, so it light well aim'd" (9.163-73). In his compulsive repetitiveness, Satan becomes a victim of his own neurotic aggression and of God's militant irony. He is an admonitory epic anti-hero and tragic protagonist, demonstrating how Milton's satire is "borne out of a Tragedy. "

In their treatment of the elegiac mode, Cowley and Milton show significant differences as poets confronting the tragic loss brought about by epic warfare. Milton's entire poem is an elegy on the loss of innocence, the inevitability of war and death, "and all our woe" (1.3-4), but it is also a hymn of praise and a poem of consolation that are integral parts of his theodicy. In The Civil War, Cowley's many elegies on the deaths of the great Royalist soldiers, of course, resemble the epic laments for dead heroes in the Iliad and Aeneid. But it is his barely consolable elegy on one man, Lord Falkland, that stands out as most important for the poet and his poem.

Lucius Carey, Lord Falkland, was the Royalist paragon of culture and civilization. After young Cowley had migrated to Oxford, writes his biographer Thomas Sprat, "he speedily grew familiar to the chief men of the Court and Gown, whom the Fortune of the War had drawn together." Here "he had the entire friendship of my Lord Falkland."(15) Before the War, Falkland at his country house at Great Tew received many friends from London and Oxford who admired his wit, knowledge, and judgment. He was, says Clarendon, a most liberal and bountiful patron" to wits, poets, and philosophers, and "wonderfully beloved, by all who knew him."(16)

Falkland was, however, "addicted to the profession of a soldier." He had been in the Low Countries seeking a command, but when war broke out in England he returned home. "From the entrance into this unnatural war," Clarendon writes, "his natural cheerfulness and vivacity grew clouded and a kind of sadness stole upon him." When it appeared that there was no hope for peace, Falkland fell into despondency, and "sitting among friends, often, after a deep silence and frequent sighs, would, with a shrill and sad account, ingeminate the word Peace, Peace" (59-60).

Falkland served as a volunteer in the Royalist army, fighting at Edgehill and Gloucester. According to the Parliamentarian Bulstrode Whitelocke, who based his report on hearsay, Falkland on the morning of the fatal battle of Newbury, "called for clean linen, as though to be slain." He told his friends "that he was weary of the times, foresaw much misery to his own country, and did believe he should be out of it ere night."(17)

In the battle, Falkland put himself in the front rank of Sir John Byron's cavalry. The Royal infantry had been thwarted in an assault 6n Round Hill by enemy cannon and troops, and the King's cavalry was called in to intervene. Sir John Byron rode forward to reconnoitre, to see where the enemy infantry was drawn up. He discovered the place enclosed with a high hedge with only a narrow gap through which one horse at a time could go. Sir john Byron writes, "My Lord Falkland (more gallantly than advisedly) spurred his horse through the gap, where both he and his horse were immediately killed."(18)

The concluding section of Cowley's epic is a lengthy elegy (3.529-648) on the death of Falkland that is made up of lament, praise, and an attempt at consolation. He begins with an ominous vision of "the Conquering Angell" flying to Oxford from the field of battle on silent "blood-stain'd Wings." Cowley has a tragic recognition: "O 'tis a deadly truth! Falkland is slain;-/ His noble blood all dyes th'accursed plaine." The enemy has taken the life of "the Man in whom all Virtues grew." Cowley then envisions the flight of Falkland's soul in "A track of heav'enly Light," liberated from the fallen world of war, its "Trenches, Hedges, Works, and Fastnesses." He imagines the trajectory of the soul's flight as it merges with numberless stars. "God's arm'd and stretchtout hand" receives Falkland's soul. The prayer for peace that concludes the final book is darkened by the poet's pessimistic sense that "If this red warre last still, it will not leave, / Enough behind great Falklands death to grieve." After the elegy and prayer the epic stops short. Falkland's death may have so disheartened the poet that he ceased trying to complete his epic.

Of Falkland, Cowley writes that he was a man "whose Knowledge did contain, / All that the Apple promis'd us in vain." The image of the forbidden fruit recalls the doctrine of Original Sin but also suggests that the aristocrat Falkland was a regenerate Adam who possessed the knowledge that the apple only vainly promised. By contrast, in Milton's Christian epic the apple is "the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / Brought death into the World" (1.1-3). Satan upon his return- to Hell boasts to the fallen angels that he has avenged them against God by seducing mankind from the Creator only "with an Apple" (10.487). This apple is the cause of tragedy in the fallen world, and therefore of the pervasive elegiac atmosphere of Paradise Lost.

Milton wrote much of his epic during the early years of the Restoration, having suffered what Christopher Hill calls "the experience of defeat."(19) The poet had rejected "Wars, hitherto the only Argument / Heroic deem'd" (9.28-9). In his epic the violence of the war in Heaven causes God, before sending the Son to it, to declare that "War wearied hath perform'd what war can do," and repudiates what war can do as "perpetual fight" and "Wild work" without solution (6.693-98). Although the Son's victory is an occasion for joyful hymns, the war in Heaven is a central episode in a poem about the loss of Paradise. Mid-point in the epic, the archetypal war is presented as the original source of sin, sorrow, and woe. Because of Satan's rebellion, God had created mankind. But Satan, still at war with God, seeks to pervert providential good, "And out of good still to find means of evil" (1.165). He attempts to avenge God by tempting Man with the forbidden fruit, and this in turn causes our tragic loss of paradisal innocence, bringing "into this World a world of woe" (9.11).

Thus the elegiac strain permeates the whole poem, and in particular those passages that mourn the loss of the good. The Miltonic Narrator mourns the loss of innocence in pastoral Eden (9.406-1 1) and his own loss of physical sight (3.21-6). Satan's loss of paradise, "Farewell happy fields / Where joy forever dwells" (1.249-50) and his praise of the loveliness of Earth, "O Earth, how like to Heav'n" (9.99), reflect his own personal sorrow. Adam's tragic lament for his loss of Eve, "How can I live without thee?" (9.908), is elegiac as is Eve's lament that she must leave Paradise, "O unexpected stroke, worse than of Death" (11.268).(20) These are not elegies in the strict sense of being about the death of an actual person. They are, however, elegiac meditations about the tragic aspects of life, transience, personal loss, and death.(21)

Milton's elegiac consolation is achieved through the promise of "A paradise within . . . happier far" (12.587) and of the "greater Man" who will "Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat" (1.4-5). The consolation, moreover, can be found in the poet's visionary ideal, for despite his physical blindness, he can "assert Providence, And justify the ways of God to men" (1.25-26).

A final note on how the poets' epic treatment of warfare reflects their views of the historical situation: Cowley could not continue his epic because the forces of history had taken control of his plot. His narrative had proceeded in chronos, through passing chronological time, one battle after another in perpetual crisis. The poem was at the mercy of the contemporary and became a casualty of the war itself. When the news of the Battle of Newbury and the death of Falkland reached Oxford in September 1643, it foreclosed his completing it. Years later, in 1656, he wrote in the Preface to Poems that "three Books of the Civil War it selfe" had reached "as far as the first Battel of Newbury, where succeeding misfortunes of the party stopt the work." It is "almost ridiculous," he adds bitterly, "to make Lawrels for the Conquered." He had come to understand that "a warlike, various, and tragical age is best to write of, but worst to write in."(22)

In contrast with Cowley's narrative tied to the particularities of history, Milton's Puritan sense of providential purpose enabled him to transcend contemporary events. The war in Heaven takes place in kairos, defined by Frank Kermode as a point in time "charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end."(23) Raphael's account of the war is told in retrospect, and its result has already been determined. Consequently, the reader shares the narrator's sense of foreknowledge and permissive providence. This shared knowledge sub specie aeternitatis enables the narrator not only to historicize but also to distance himself from military events and to stress, by means of cosmic irony, the presumption, ignorance, and futility of Satan's warfare against God. From the vantage point of the Restoration, the poet Milton looks retrospectively at the Civil War, and like his narrator Raphael, he has gained a breadth of vision through a greater understanding of God's providence, enabling him to "see and tell / Of things invisible to mortal sight"

(1) In 1679, twelve years after Cowley's death, a version of Book I was published as A Poem on the Late Civil War. Two MS. copies of the whole poem have been discovered among papers at the Hertford County Record Office by Allan Pritchard and provide the basis of his edition of the poem. See his "The Survival of the Suppressed Poem," in Allan Pritchard, ed., The Civil War (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1973), 3-10.

(2) See Boyd M. Berry, "Puritan Soldiers in Paradise Lost," MLQ 35 (1974):382.

(3) Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 73.

(4) However, Christopher Hill, in his discussion of the warfare in Heaven in Paradise Lost, suggests that there are direct but covert parallels with specific battles of the Civil War. See Milton and the English Revolution (New York: Viking, 1977), 371-72.

(5) Citations 1rom Milton's poetry are from Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey, 1957). References to Paradise Lost are within my text by book and line number in parentheses.

(6) In his treatment of the Civil War, Cowley attempts to create a sense of the timeless and universal by the introduction of supernatural characters. These include God and his angels supporting the King's cause, and Satan and his devils in a conclave in Hell plotting assistance to the rebels. These characters are part of the epic machinery, but they are not fully integrated into the plot as are Milton's supernatural characters in Paradise Lost.

(7) Citations from Abraham Cowley, The Civil War, ed. Allan Pritchard (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1973), by book and line number.

(8) See C. V. Wedgwood, Poetry and Politics Under the Stuarts (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1960), 67.

(9) Francis C. Blessington, "'That Undisturbed Song of Pure Concent': Paradise Lost and the Epic Hymn," in Renaissance Genres, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986), 480.

(10) In English Literary Criticism. The Renaissance, ed. 0. B. Hardison, jr. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963), 161-63.

(11) In The Works of John Milton, ed. Frank A. Patterson, et al., 18 vols. (New York: Columbia UP, 1931-38), 3.238. Subsequent references to various Miltonic writings are by "CE" and the volume number.

(12) John Dryden, "A Discourse Concerning Satire," in Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Essays, ed. George Watson (New York: Dutton-Everyman, 1962), 2.49.

(13) On the admonitory epic, see 0. B. Hardison, jr., The Enduring Monument: A Study of the Idea of Praise in Literary Theory and Practice (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1962), 90.

(14) Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957), ?23.

(15) Thomas Sprat, "Account of the Life and Writings of Abraham Cowley," in Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. J. E. Spingarn (Oxford: Clarendon, 1908), 2.123.

(16) Selections from Clarendon: " The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars " and " The Life of Himself ed. G. Huehns (London: Oxford UP, 1955), 50, 332.

(17) Quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, The Cavaliers (London: Constable, 1976), 47-48.

(18) Quoted in Alfred H. Burne and Peter Young, The Great Civil War (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1959), 104.

(19) Christopher Hill, The Experience of Defeat (New York: Viking-Penguin, 1984), 16.

(20) See Barbara K. Lewalski's discussion of the "tragic lyric" in "Paradise Lost" and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985), 244-53.

(21) See Stephen F. Fogle, "Elegy," in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974), 216.

(22) In Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, 2.83;80.

(23) Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending.- Studies in the Theory of Fiction (New York: Oxford UP, 1966), 47.




   
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