As Bloom’s theory would suggest, John Milton is often credited with influencing literary figures - particularly during the Romantic period. T.S. Eliot writes of Milton’s ‘bad influence’ upon his successors while others, such as Lucy Newlyn , celebrate his impact. Many critics use Wordsworth as a perfect example of this influence and there is certainly a valid argument for his ‘emulation’ of, and ‘rebellion’ against, Paradise Lost. Throughout The Prelude, Wordsworth revises and alludes to Milton. Though there are too many links to be traced in one essay, Milton’s legacy provides an interesting point of discussion.
Initially, Wordsworth exhibits what could be called an ‘anxiety of influence’. In Book III of The Prelude, he incorporates Milton into a scene that comes to a troubling conclusion:
…O temperate Bard!
I to thee
Poured out libations, to thy memory drank,
…till my brain reeled
Never so clouded by the fumes of wine
Before that hour, or since...
[…] …Empty thoughts!
I am ashamed of them
The scene is arguably a metaphorical manifestation of Wordsworth’s anxiety towards his predecessor. Just as Wordsworth stands where Milton once did, The Prelude figuratively inhabits the genre that Milton occupied. As he writes, he fears that The Prelude is unworthy of Paradise Lost and that, just as with his drinking, he will feel ‘ashamed’. Bloom’s theory would then appear accurate, and a sense of ‘rebellion’ is definitely apparent.
Whereas Milton’s epic is profoundly Christian, Wordsworth secularises his poem. Adam and Eve are led by God, Nature is Wordsworth’s guide:
The earth is all before me: with a heart
Joyous, nor scar’d at its own Liberty,
I look about, and should the guide I chuse
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud
I cannot miss my way. (Prel I.15-19)
The quotes alludes to the final lines of Paradise Lost, when Adam and Eve are forced to leave Eden:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide,
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
Wordsworth takes ‘wandering’ and ‘way’ verbatim, and his use of ‘earth’ evokes Milton’s ‘world’. Bloom’s theory of emulation has some credibility as the quote acknowledges Milton’s influence on Wordsworth’s preoccupation with ‘liberty’. Yet as mentioned above, ‘rebellion’ is also in evidence. Milton recognises God as ‘Providence’ and a ‘guide’ to humanity, but Wordsworth refrains from religious connotations. He is free to ‘chuse’ his ‘guide’ for ‘better’ or worse, and so is more autonomous from God than Adam and Eve. However, he is not entirely free. In many ways, Nature is his modern alternative to God. He speaks of his ‘religious love’ (Prel II.377) for Nature rather than heaven. Later, during the boating incident, he comments that ‘surely’ he...