It was 1638, and 29-year-old John Milton was feeling like pretty hot stuff. The son of an English law clerk had graduated with honors from Cambridge, spent five years reading and writing poetry, and had just arrived in Italy for a long tour of Europe. The more people read his poetry, the more compliments he got on his talent and promise. Milton took their praise to heart and decided that he was going to become one of the Great English Poets. You're welcome, English readers.
It took thirty years for Milton's prediction to come true. By the time it did, life had dealt John Milton enough blows to shake his youthful confidence. Twice widowed, imprisoned once, politically outcast, and completely blind, Milton had lost everything dear to him. But like St. Augustine, who found grace only after he hit bottom, Milton found divine inspiration when all else was gone. His 1667 epic Paradise Lost, the story of Satan's fall from grace and the epic battle between good and evil, established Milton as a poet for the ages. The poet and critic John Dryden is said to have remarked upon reading Paradise Lost, "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too."1