chapter  4
31 Pages

Cowley’s Epic Experiments

WithMaggie Kilgour

Links between Cowley and Milton are developed in Chapter 4, where Maggie Kilgour assesses their odd-couple standing in literary history. Within weeks of his lavish funeral in July 1667, publication of Paradise Lost started to place Cowley’s legacy in jeopardy. But Paradise Lost especially shows how carefully Milton studied Cowley’s unfinished epic Davideis, the first of its kind in English. Moreover, as Kilgour demonstrates, connections between the two men are strong: common literary influences (Shakespeare and Spenser), the impact of civil war, and a late-flowering penchant for writing biblical epic. Yet they also diverged in important ways: only Cowley, of the two, was a child prodigy; and their respective political allegiances, and poetic sensibilities, differed markedly. The latter two reasons, in particular, have led scholars to downplay Milton’s relation to Cowley. But as this chapter argue elucidates, when Cowley is considered alongside Milton it has a mutually illuminating effect. One of the most innovative of English writers, Cowley’s experimentation with different forms of poetry opened up new possibilities for English literature; hence, Kilgour argues, he has been overlooked for too long…[Q3].