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Thread: A First Time Reader's Dilemma...

  1. #1
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    A First Time Reader's Dilemma...

    ...To read it with or without all of extensive notations. I have the beautiful (but really heavy!) Modern Library Edition and it seems that each page of Paradise Lost is filled with maybe 50 words of the poem and 300 words of notes on the poem. I basically have two choices: Read the poem with or without the notes. There are pros and cons to both. If I choose to read them I will undoubtedly get a greater understanding of the poem, especially in all its complexities and subtleties that both first-time readers and poetry neophytes (like myself) will miss. The great con is that reading the notes will interrupt the flow of the poem. Obviously the pros and cons of not reading them is the reverse; a greater artistic experience in terms of how it was meant to be read, but a loss of the understanding.

    Normally I prefer to experience art first and THEN go back and talk/learn all about it. But with such a work as PL I'm wondering if I can enjoy it without fully understanding what all I'm reading.

    All advices and opinions are welcomed.
    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being." --Carl Gustav Jung

    "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Neil Gaiman; The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

    "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" --The Proclaimers

  2. #2
    How much you'll need/want notes depends on your background. If you are comfortable reading Shakespeare, you shouldn't need much help with the diction. If you have knowledge of the Bible, you shouldn't have too much of a problem following the content without notes.

    I think you should try to read it without notes at first. If you find it too difficult after the first 500 lines or so, then I would suggest trying to find an edition with minimal notes (and even better if they are footnotes rather than end notes). For example, the Norton Critical Editions version edited by Scott Elledge, while not ideal (I think it has too many notes), doesn't seem too bad. Or, if you don't want to get another edition because you just dropped a huge amount of money on that Modern Library monster, just look down at the notes when you hit passages that you can't figure out and try to resist stopping and reading every note. All the details and additional understanding are better left for the second (and subsequent) reading in my opinion. You can definitely enjoy Paradise Lost without understanding everything.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  3. #3
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    Thanks for the advise. I'm not familiar with Shakespeare (I do plan to remedy that soon as well), but I am with The Bible. I was also thinking that maybe a plan of reading first and only checking the notes if I find myself lost might be best. I'm guessing it's probably something I'll definitely come back to several times.
    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being." --Carl Gustav Jung

    "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Neil Gaiman; The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

    "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" --The Proclaimers

  4. #4
    Asa Nisi Masa mayneverhave's Avatar
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    I too am currently reading Paradise Lost, mostly without notes.

    Some of the fallen angel names are due for some annotation, along with some of the various place names alluded to.

    Overall though, I'm enjoying and understanding the poem immensely without notes, as the language becomes pretty easy to follow once you grow accustomed to it. Fortunately Paradise Lost is one of those great works that you will inevitably come back to again. When one returns to a poem or section of a work, you usually do so to more closely analyze and comprehend a section. So even if you miss an allusion or two, there will be plenty of chances to return to them again and again.

  5. #5
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    I finished it recently and it certainly lives up to its status as the greatest English epic poem (though, admittedly, I haven't read any others; it's still superb). I can't wait to return to it. But I must say that of all of Milton's poems I think I got the most out of Lycidas; what a perfect piece of short poetry! Dense and difficult, but still very human and emotional. Paradise Lost is a marvel, and probably too rich to be appreciated on the first (few) reads.
    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being." --Carl Gustav Jung

    "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Neil Gaiman; The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

    "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" --The Proclaimers

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