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A Meeting of Giants

Mercury Autumn 2008 Table of Contents


Sheehan opening page

Image courtesy of William Sheehan.

by William Sheehan

As we await the International Year of Astronomy, when the world will mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations with the telescope, we also celebrate the 400th anniversary (on December 8, 1608) of the birth of John Milton, still generally regarded as the greatest poet in the English language — after Shakespeare.

Born in Bread Street, Cheapside, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Milton proved to be a prodigy in languages, mastering Latin and Greek at St. Paul’s School. Later, as a student at Christ's College, Cambridge, he added modern European languages and Hebrew. He had delicate features and a fair complexion, and was so far from being hirsute that he became known as the "Lady of Christ's." Several of the poems he wrote while still in his early twenties, including the Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity, the sonnet How Soon Hath Time, and his symmetric set-pieces L'Allegro and Il Penseroso are still frequently anthologized.

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