By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 10, 2011

10. Paradise Lost, by John Milton, pp. 235-265

PARADISE LOST by John Milton, edited by Merritt Y. HughesBook X
As Samuel Johnson said of Paradise Lost, "None ever wished it longer than it is." And when you've reached the Fall, a lot of what remains is anticlimax.

The "Angelic Guards" depart from Eden, and are greeted with sadness in Heaven, although Milton hastens to add that it "violated not thir bliss." Apparently it takes a lot to get an angel down. God smooths things over a bit by saying "I told you so": He had said Satan would succeed in seducing humankind, but that's the way free will works. Meanwhile, he notes that Adam and Eve are puzzling over the fact that they haven't been struck dead yet, so to keep them from assuming that they aren't being punished he commissions the Son to go down and explain it all to them. The throng of angels follows the Son to the gates of Heaven to see him off.
Francis Hayman, 1749
Gustave Doré, 1866

Adam and Eve hear "the voice of God ... Now walking in the Garden" and try to hide, but they come out when he calls for Adam. Eve follows, though "more loath" to do so. "Love was not in thir looks, either to God / Or to each other, but apparent guilt, / And shame, and perturbation, and despair, / Anger, and obstinacy, and hate, and guile." Adam's excuse is that he was naked, which elicits the obvious question: "that thou art naked, who / Hath told thee? hast thou eaten of the Tree / Whereof I gave thee charge thou shouldst not eat?" Adam is reluctant to blame Eve, but he does, referring to her as "This Woman whom thou mad'st to be my help."

The retort is a sharp one: "Was shee thy God, that her thou didst obey / Before his voice"? But the followup is typically sexist: "Thou didst resign thy Manhood, and the Place / Wherein God set thee above her made of thee." Eve, too, tries to pass the buck: "The Serpent me beguil'd and I did eat." God then directs his attention to the serpent in ways that seem to me unfair: the poor snake was just lying there asleep when Satan took over its body. Nevertheless, it gets cursed to grovel on its belly and eat dust.
Between Thee and the Woman I will put
Enmity, and between thine and her Seed:
Her Seed shall bruise thy head, thou bruise his heel.
   So Spake this Oracle, then verifi'd
When Jesus son of Mary second Eve,
Say Satan fall like Lightning down from Heav'n
Though here Milton is getting ahead of his story. Getting back to the first Eve, God tells her, "Children thou shalt bring / In sorrow forth, and to thy Husband's will / Thine shall submit, hee over thee shall rule." (He's had a little bit of trouble making that last one stick, so maybe the reporters got it wrong.) As for Adam, he'll have to work for a living, and it won't be so easy tending a garden because God plans to invent weeds. And since he was created out of the ground, he'll return to it after death, which isn't going to happen right away, as they had feared. But he takes pity on them for being so ashamed of their nakedness and provides them with clothes made from "Skins of Beasts." Milton isn't sure whether God skinned the beasts right then and there or made them shed their skins and put on new ones, like "the Snake with youthful Coat repaid. And then he goes back to Heaven.

Meanwhile, Sin and Death have been at work building a kind of causeway through Chaos, from Hell to the universe. And Death has smelled his "prey innumerable" in the fallen world. Satan is delighted to find that his children have been so productive.
Hee, after Eve seduc't, unminded slunk
Into the Wood fast by, and changing shape
To observe the sequel, saw his guileful act
By Eve, though all unweeting, seconded
Upon her Husband, saw thir shame that sought
Vain covertures; but when he saw descend
The Son of God to judge them, terrifi'd he fled
Now he encounters Sin and Death, and Sin gives him credit for his "magnific deeds."
Thine now is all this World, thy virtue hath won
What thy hands builded not, thy Wisdom gain'd
With odds what War hath lost, and fully aveng'd
Our foil in Heav'n
Satan tells them to go ahead and take over the Earth, "Dominion exercise and in the Air, / Chiefly on Man, sole Lord of all declar'd, / Him first make sure your thrall, and lastly kill." Meanwhile, he's going back to Hell to boast about what he's done.
The fallen angels await Satan's return, by Gustave Doré, 1866

He disguises himself as a "Plebeian Angel militant / Of lowest order," enters Pandaemonium, and invisibly takes his place on the throne, making a surprise entrance when "At last as from a Cloud his fulgent head / And shape Star-bright appear'd, or brighter, clad / With what permissive glory since his fall / Was left him, or false glitter." He addresses his minions with a speech about his glorious deeds, though he fudges some of the details. For example, he claims that "Night and Chaos wild ... fiercely oppos'd / My journey strange," when in fact they helped him. As for Adam, "Him by fraud I have seduc'd / From his Creator, and the more to increase / Your wonder, with an Apple." And he got away without being punished, he claims: Instead, God punished "the brute Serpent in whose shape / Man I deceiv'd."
                                            I am to bruise his heel;
His Seed, when is not set, shall bruise my head:
A World who would not purchase with a bruise,
Or much more grievous pain?  Ye have th' account
Of my performance: What remains, ye Gods,
But up and enter now into full bliss.
   So having said, a while he stood, expecting
Thir universal shout and high applause
To fill his ear, when contrary he hears,
On all sides, from innumerable tongues,
A dismal universal hiss, the sound
Of public scorn
Gustave Doré, 1866

He and his followers have all been turned into snakes, and Milton does a nice job of imagining the metamorphosis: "His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare, / His Arms clung to his Ribs, his Legs entwining / Each other, till supplanted down he fell / A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone." The crowd outside the council hall is surprised to see a writhing mass of snakes emerge from it, and they too are transformed. Then they see a grove of fruit trees that resemble the fatal tree in the Garden, but when they taste the fruit it turns to ashes in their mouths. Eventually they resume their former shapes, but Milton says that they have  to undergo this "humbling" annually "To dash thir prid, and joy for Man seduc't."
Sin and Death arrive on Earth, by Gustave Doré, 1866

Sin and Death arrive on Earth, but Death is disappointed that there are so few creatures to feed on. Sin tells him to start with the plants and the animals until there are enough human beings. She'll spend her time infecting humanity "And season him thy last and sweetest prey." In Heaven, God assures the angels that the ravishment of Paradise will not last forever, but eventually "Heav'n and Earth renew'd shall be made pure / To sanctity that shall receive no stain: / Till then the Curse pronounc't on both precedes." The angels sing a Halleluiah.

Meanwhile, there are some cosmic details to take care of, such as shifting the angle of the Sun to create seasons of extreme cold and extreme heat, and arranging it so the planets and constellations have their zodiacal effect on things.
Some say he bid his Angels turn askance
The Poles of Earth twice ten degrees and more
From the Sun's Axle; they with labor push'd
Oblique the Centric Globe: Some say the Sun
Was bid turn Reins from th' Equinoctial Road 
In other words, either the Earth was moved or the Sun was -- again Milton waffles on the geocentric or heliocentric issue. 

The arrival of Sin and Death also introduces "Discord" and "fierce antipathy: / Beast now with Beast gan war, and Fowl with Fowl, / And Fish with Fish; to graze the Herb all leaving, / Devour'd each other." (Before the fall, all the animals were herbivorous.)  The whole thing depresses Adam, who wishes he'd never been created:
                                                     O fleeting joys
Of Paradise, dear bought with lasting woes!
Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me, or here place
In this delicious Garden? 
He wants to die as soon as possible. But then he thinks that death might be worse: "in the Grave, / Or in some other dismal place, who knows / But I shall die a living Death?" It's the same fear that deters Hamlet from killing himself. And he realizes that he has also condemned his children to the same fate: "Ah, why should all mankind / For one man's fault thus guiltless be condemn'd, / If guiltless?" He frets about future generations blaming him, though his guilt is shared with "that bad Woman."
Adam rejects Eve's comfort, by William Strang, 1896

Eve tries to comfort him with "Soft words," but he orders her "Out of my sight, thou Serpent, that name best / Befits thee with him leagu'd, thyself as false and hateful." He would still be happy "had not thy pride / And wand'ring vanity, when least was safe, / Rejected my forewarning." Why did God create "this fair defect / Of Nature, and not fill the World at once / With Men as Angels without Feminine, / Or find some other way to generate Mankind?" He then imagines how hard it will be for future men to find mates: They'll want some woman who won't want them, or who will be forbidden to marry them by her parents, or they'll meet someone who is already married, and so on. It's a catalog of unhappy love affairs.

Eve begs him to forgive her and to realize that she needs his help, "Thy counsel in this uttermost distress, / My only strength and stay." They may not have long to live, she says, so "Between us two let there be peace, both joining, / As join'd in injuries, one enmity / Against a Foe by doom express assign'd us, / That cruel Serpent." They both have sinned, she admits, "but thou / Against God only, I against God and thee." She begs God to punish her, not him. She is "sole cause to thee of all this woe, / Mee mee only just object of his ire." 

Adam is moved by her selflessness and says he should bear the brunt of punishment -- after all, he's the man and she, well, she's just a woman.
                                                          If Prayers
Could alter high Decrees, I to that place
Would speed before thee, and be louder heard,
That on my head all might be visited,
Thy frailty and infirmer Sex forgiv'n,
To me committed and by me expos'd.
But rise, let us no more contend, nor blame
Each other, blam'd enough elsewhere, but strive
In offices of Love, how we may light'n
Each other's burden in our share of woe;
Since this day's Death denounc't, if aught I see,
Will prove no sudden, but a slow-pac't evil,
A long day's dying to augment our plain,
And to our Seed (O hapless Seed!) deriv'd. 
Eve also realizes the consequences of their having children, and suggests that either they abstain from sex or kill themselves, "So Death / Shall be deceiv'd his glut, and with us two / Be forc'd to satisfy his Rav'nous Maw." Adam is impressed that her "contempt of life and pleasure seems / To argue in thee something more sublime / And excellent than what thy mind contemns," but he's certain that God won't let them take the easy way out. He wants to have his revenge on Satan, and they won't get that opportunity if they kill themselves or don't have children to carry on their vengeance. So no more talk of suicide or sexual abstinence: "That cuts us off from hope, and savors only / Rancor and pride, impatience and despite." After all, the curse on them isn't all bad: The pain of child-bearing will be rewarded "with joy, / Fruit of thy Womb." (Easy for him to say.) And for having to work for his living, so what? "Idleness had been worse." He proposes that they ask God for guidance on how to deal with the changes in the weather, and how to use fire.

So they go to where they had received the punishment from the Son and confess their faults and pray for guidance.

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