In the July/August edition of Poetry, Daisy Fried writes a nice little piece on reading Paradise Lost in its original form and in a recent parallel prose edition, which is offered, apparently, as “a way to deal with the epic’s difficulty” (Fried’s words). She pulls out a few clanger passages in translation to illustrate how impoverished they are (however well-meaning) next to the original poetry, which, at least in the examples she gives, isn’t really all that hard at all to read. Some passages from Fried’s short and sort of delightful article that seem relevant to much of the hoopla about how hard it is to read Infinite Jest:
Taking the Milton out of Milton emphasizes how much we need Milton’s language to create his effects.
No one ever told me Paradise Lost was difficult.
[Reading Paradise Lost] was like walking into a museum or gallery and seeing something you’ve never seen before which astonishes you. You don’t know why it does. You can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have the same reaction. Is it possible that teachers are preventing their students from seeing Milton as Milton, scaring them off, by talking too much about how much good-hearted help they’ll need to understand him?
Danielson’s Paradise Lost: Parallel Prose Edition is clearly a labor of love by someone who knows Milton.The trouble is, Danielson wants to orient rather than disorient — and that’s not Paradise Lost. It’s not what poems do… [Milton] was enacting my own disorientation. He was mattering to my life.