"I'm really on a Milton roll here," DuRocher said, who is still taking in the whirlwind of honors he has received in the past year. DuRocher gave this fall's annual Mellby lecture, Why Milton Matters, and has been invited to give the keynote address at the 2007 Conference on John Milton in October. In addition, DuRocher is collaborating with 12 other Milton scholars from around the world on a complete commentary on "Paradise Lost" for the Milton Variorum. DuRocher likened this daunting project, not expected to reach completion until at least 2030, to building theTower of Babel.
"I dont expect I'll be around to see it," DuRocher said.
DuRocher has also been working through a grant from the Irish government to translate letters of the papal ambassador to Ireland. Classics major Elizabeth Beerman '07, who has assisted with the translation of this 17th century Latin text, described DuRocher as both an outstanding scholar and dedicated teacher.
"It is no surprise that he is so well recognized in his field, given his talent and enthusiasm for his work," Beerman said. "He is more than deserving of this award, and of recognition here at St. Olaf as well."
Despite these achievements, DuRocher's latest award still came as a great surprise. "I've judged for the rigorous selection process of the NEH and know how brutally competitive it is," DuRocher said. "The NEH gives out few awards, to the humanities in particular, and thousands apply."
In his proposed project, "Mapping the Emotions in Milton's Major Poems," DuRocher will be examining how 16th- and 17th-century Renaissance theories about emotions shaped Milton's writing.
"Today, many of us think of poetry as an outlet for the imagination and emotions, but most of us aren't aware of where poets like Milton or Shakespeare got their ideas about emotion," DuRocher said. The Milton works DuRocher is researching explore the psyche of such Biblical figures as Adam, Eve and Satan in "Paradise Lost," Jesus during his temptation in the wilderness in "Paradise Regained" and Samson in "Samson Agonistes."
"The popular Renaissance belief was that all passions were evil," DuRocher said. "But I believe that in Milton's works, emotions are given not merely as signs of evil but things one can and should control."
DuRocher cited a passage from Milton's "Areopagitica" that he has found key to his research: "Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?"
DuRocher's interest in Milton was inspired by one of his undergraduate professors at Loyola University of New Orleans, Dr. Cotton, a tough love professor who got DuRocher excited about Milton. DuRocher also found that he shared a love for Latin and a fascination with the classical scholarship Milton used extensively in his writing. DuRocher, who received a Catholic education that included training in Latin, said it is rare to find someone who enjoys reading Latin poetry for pleasure nowadays, and this led naturally to his focus on John Milton. DuRocher has already written two books on Milton: "Milton and Ovid" in 1985, and "Milton Among the Romans" in 2001, as well as numerous articles.
"He is on his way, if not there already, to being one of the major Milton scholars in the country, and this honor confirms that," said Professor of English Mary Steen, chair of the St. Olaf English department.