Journal Article

Dante and the Distraction of Lyric in Milton's ‘To My Friend Mr Henry Lawes’

Nicholas McDowell

in The Review of English Studies

Volume 59, issue 239, pages 232-254
Published in print April 2008 | ISSN: 0034-6551
Published online June 2007 | e-ISSN: 1471-6968 | DOI:

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The question of why Milton's poems of the 1620s and 1630s were published at the end of 1645 remains to be satisfactorily answered. The sonnet that Milton sent to Henry Lawes at the beginning of 1646, probably to accompany a presentation copy of the Poems, can shed light on the political and personal reasons behind the decision to publish at this moment, even though Milton repudiated some of the poems (such as the Latin elegies) and others, such as the elegy for Lancelot Andrewes, seem to jar with the reformist image projected in the prose. Lawes was the most prominent member of the royalist literary community with whom Milton had a personal and creative connexion. ‘To My Friend Mr Henry Lawes’ signals Milton's desire for cultural rapprochement with royalist writers and artists in the aftermath of the hostile Presbyterian reaction to the divorce tracts. The sonnet adopts the style of a Jonsonian epigram and may make reference to unpublished writing by one of the royalists' favourite poets, William Cartwright. Yet the allusion to Dante in the final lines of the sonnet, which conceals a further allusion to Lucan, hints at Milton's residual suspicion of Cavalier poetics and his sense of prophetic vocation.

Journal Article.  11397 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature) ; Literary Studies (American) ; Literary Studies (British and Irish)