Sonnet XVIII: On the Late Massacre in Piemont

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
2     Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
4     When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones;
6     Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
8     Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
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. Back to Line
3] This suggests Milton's acceptance of the idea of pure, unidolatrous worship preserved by the Vaudois from primitive times (see above, introductory note). Back to Line
5] thy book refers to the books to be consulted at the Judgment (Revelation 20:12). Back to Line
7] 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. Back to Line
9] redoubled: re-echoed. Back to Line
10] 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. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1673
RPO poem Editors: 
Hugh MacCallum; A. S. P. Woodhouse
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.237.
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