John Milton and the Communities of Resistance, 1641–42
John Milton is known as a poet seeking a ‘fit audience … though few’, and this does not look promising for a vision of community. Yet Milton engaged communities and ideals of community throughout his writing career, whether that ‘angel quire’ to which the young poet of the ‘Nativity Ode’ joins his voice (l. 27), or the university community imagined in his pastoral where ‘old Damaetas loved to hear our song’ (‘Lycidas’, l. 36), or in the spaces of Paradise Lost: in Eden, Hell and Heaven, where the poet places communities based on love or solidarity in a shared condition of elevation or abasement. There, too, are communities of dispossession, of hatred, and a military coalition of ‘Union irresistible’ (VI. l. 63). Of all these imagined collectivities, I am most interested in Milton’s hard-earned experience of shaping political and spiritual allegiance, an ongoing project in Milton’s writing life and evident in the very first bolt of pamphleteering in the early years of the revolutionary period.