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From the American Scene: The Importance of Being Milton

- Abstract

IT’S no use trying to blame or to justify the mortal taste, so long ago, that passed over Morton and Mortimer, Marvin and Melvin, and fixed, irrevocably, on Milton as just right, a name which would become me. It was a bond, not a brand-for what became of me can be traced back to that one fatal choice. Whenever I hear it swelling under and rising above the choir of other names, I feel again identified with “the organ voice of England” (as Tennyson called him)-”Milton! a name to resound for ages!” Descend, Urania!

My mother must have heard the echoes in the boroughs of New York, without knowing their source. She had never read Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, Comus, or any other works of the poet; Milton seemed to her not only a nice name, but the closest to my deceased grandmother’s, Malke. No garland was intended for John Milton. Even among my friends on the block the great name was slanged around in a casual way, nicked and diminished to Milty or, more often, Milt. Who cared? In those days, when the fruit of good and evil was still green, I would plunge frequently into a forest daydream “with native honor clad in naked majesty,” where I was known as Bomba the Jungle Boy. And what-the question is laughable- would Bomba have to do with poetry, a puling girl’s game no better than potsy or rope- jumping? If I had been told then that I belonged to the same totem as John Milton, a poet in the 17th century who wore his hair in long curly locks, I would have laughed and plunged back into the forest.

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