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John Milton (1608-1674)

Sonnet XVIII: On the Late Massacre in Piemont


              1Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones
              2     Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
              3     Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
              4     When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones;
              5Forget not: in thy book record their groans
              6     Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
              7     Slain by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
              8     Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
              9The vales redoubl'd to the hills, and they
            10     To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
            11     O'er all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
            12The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
            13     A hundred-fold, who having learnt thy way
            14Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

Notes

1] The Waldensians or Vaudois were Protestants who had long lived in the territories of the Roman Catholic rulers of Piedmont, and were thought of by Protestants of Milton's day as having preserved a simple scriptural faith from earlier times. Confined by treaty to certain mountain valleys, they had gradually intruded into the plain of Piedmont. Ordered to retire, they had been pursued into the mountains and there massacred by the Piedmontese soldiery in April 1655. In documents penned by Milton as Latin secretary, Cromwell strongly protested against such treachery and cruelty. Later in the year, possibly after Morland returned with his report (see below, 7-8 note), Milton wrote his sonnet, first published in Poems, 1673.

3-4] This suggests Milton's acceptance of the idea of pure, unidolatrous worship preserved by the Vaudois from primitive times (see above, introductory note).

5] thy book refers to the books to be consulted at the Judgment (Revelation 20:12).

7-8] The incident is narrated, with an accompanying plate, in the History of the Evangelical Churches in the Valleys of Piedmont (1658), by Sir Samuel Morland, Cromwell's emissary, who may well have given Milton the details on his return.

9] redoubled: re-echoed.

10-14] The reader is expected to remember Tertullian's famous phrase, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" and the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) where the seed that fell on good ground brought forth as much as a hundredfold. Such was to be the blood of these martyrs sown where the Pope (triple tyrant in his mitre with its three crowns) still rules: It was to make converts who, having learned God's truth, would renounce the idolatry of Rome (figured, as Protestants believed, by the Babylon of Revelation 16:19, etc.) and thus escape the woe of God's punishment upon it.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Milton, Poems, 2nd edn. (London: Thomas Dring, 1673). Facs. edn. Complete Poetical Works reproduced in photographic facsimile, comp. by H. F. Fletcher (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1943-48). PR 3551 F52 ROBA
First publication date: 1673
RPO poem editor: Hugh MacCallum, A. S. P. Woodhouse
RP edition: 3RP 1.237.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1655
Form: sonnet
Rhyme: abbaabbacdcdcd


Other poems by John Milton