Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Milton has an unmatched ability to weave poetic structure with theme and meaning, making the way the poem is put together part of the meaning of the poem. For new readers, this may mean a frustrating bout of learning poetic terms and traditions. However, once a few of the basics are internalized, one begins to realize how the work of Milton has assumed its place, alone, at the top of the canon. He infused the new and unformed English language with a power and depth that his contemporary readers never dreamed it could possess and that poets of succeeding generations have continually aspired to equal.

In the octave, Milton praises Cromwell for his past achievements. With “matchless Fortitude,” Cromwell, “our chief of men,” has triumphantly led his country through war and political turmoil. Milton praises Cromwell’s military victories at the Battle of Preston on the banks of “Darwen stream” at Dunbar and Worcester. Through every obstacle, Cromwell has plowed his way to “peace and truth.” In these seemingly tossed-off lines, Milton alludes to commonly known context. According to Merritt Hughes, the figures of “Peace” and “Truth” were impressed on a commemorative coin issued by Parliament in honor of Cromwell’s victories at Preston, Dunbar, and Worcester. Readers of Milton’s time, upon first hearing the sonnet, could little anticipate that this lilting, seemingly innocent sonnet filled with happy thoughts could turn into a...

(The entire section is 541 words.)