By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 10, 2011

11. Paradise Lost, by John Milton, pp. 265-308

PARADISE LOST by John Milton, edited by Merritt Y. HughesBooks XI and XII
The Son takes Adam and Eve's prayers to the Father, praising their contrition, and God summons a "Synod" of the "Blest" to announce his decision to send humanity "from the Garden forth to Till / The Ground whence he was taken, fitter soil." He commissions the archangel Michael to "reveal / To Adam what shall come in future days."

Adam tells Eve that he felt better after praying, and he hails her as "Mother of all Mankind." Eve expresses her gratitude at their reconciliation, and suggests that they get to work on their old business of tending the Garden, naïvely observing, since she's unaware that they're about to get kicked out of Eden, "while here we dwell, / What can be toilsome in these pleasant Walks? / Here let us live, though in fall'n state, content."

But Adam, seeing an eagle chasing some smaller birds and a lion ("the Beast that reigns in Woods") hunting deer and heading toward the "Eastern Gate," suspects that "some furder change awaits us nigh." And soon he spots Michael making his way through the sky toward them, "not terrible, / That I should fear, nor sociably mild, / As Raphaël, that I should much confide, / But solemn and sublime, whom not to offend, / With reverence I must meet, and thou retire."
Gustave Doré, 1866

Michael Burgesse, after John Baptist Medina, 1688

Michael approaches, and tells them their prayers have been heard and assures them that death is a long way off, giving them time to "repent" and cover "one bad act with many deeds well done.
But longer in this Paradise to dwell
Permits not; to remove thee I am come,
And send thee from the Garden forth to till
The ground whence thou wast tak'n, fitter Soil. 
Both are appalled at the news that they won't be able to stay in the Garden, and Eve laments that she must leave behind the flowers she has tended and named.
Who now shall rear ye to the Sun, or rank
Your Tribes, and water from th' ambrosial Fount?
Thee lastly nuptial Bower, by mee adorn'd
With what to sight or smell was sweet; from thee
How shall I part, and whither wander down
Into a lower World, to this obscure
And wild, how shall we breathe in other air
Less pure, accustom'd to immortal Fruits? 
This speech strongly evokes a sense of loss in anyone who has ever had to move from a familiar home. For all his intellectualized bluster, Milton can occasionally touch the heart.

Adam, of course, is not so sentimental or so human. For him the loss is expressed in a fear of losing touch with God: "This most afflicts me, that departing hence, / As from his face I shall be hid, depriv'd / His blessed count'nance." Michael assures him that "his Omnipresence fills / Land, Sea, and Air." And he proposes now "To show thee what shall come in future days / To thee and to thy Offspring." But he puts Eve to sleep for some reason.
Charles Grignon after Francis Hayman, 1749
William Strang, 1896
Michael and Adam go to the top of the highest hill in Paradise, where Michael begins his preview of history with Cain murdering Abel. It's Adam's first sight of Death, and he's shocked, but Michael tells him there are "many shapes / Of Death, and many are the ways that lead / To his grim Cave, all dismal." He shows Adam some more visions of pain and suffering, which causes Adam to weep and ask the eternal question:
                                                Why is life giv'n
To be thus wrested from us? rather why
Obtruded on us thus? who if we knew
What we receive, would either not accept
Life offer'd, or soon beg to lay it down,
Glad to be so dismist in peace.
Michael says that the examples he has shown him are of those who "pervert Nature's healthful rules / To loathsome sickness, worthily, since they / God's Image did not reverence in themselves." (Actually, some of them are naturally occurring diseases, but Milton seems to regard illness as a punishment for sin.) Adam says that seems fair, but Michael admits that even if you practice temperance and lead a virtuous life, you still "must outlive / Thy youth, thy strength, thy beauty, which will change / To wither'd weak and gray." Michael advises him to accept the fact. "Nor love thy Life, nor hate; but what thou liv'st / Live well, how long or short permit to Heav'n."

Michael shows him a vision of a prosperous land with herds of cattle, people playing music, and working with metal. In another part of the land they
                                              from the Tents behold
A Bevy of fair Women, richly gay
In Gems and wanton dress; to the Harp they sung
Soft amorous Ditties, and in dance came on;
The Men though grave, ey'd them, and let thir eyes
Rove without rein, till in the amorous Net
Fast caught, they lik'd, and each his liking chose
Adam likes what he sees: "Much better seems this Vision, and more hope / Of peaceful days portends, than those two past; / Those were of hate and death, or pain much worse, / Here Nature seems fulfill'd in all her ends." But Michael warns him, "Judge not what is best by pleasure.... Those Tents thou saw'st so pleasant, were the Tents / Of Wickedness, wherein shall dwell his Race / Who slew his Brother." And the women were "empty of all good wherein consists / Woman's domestic honor and chief praise." Even though "these fair Atheists ... now swim in joy, / (Erelong to swim at large) and laugh; for which / The world erelong a world of tears must weep."
Gustave Doré, 1866

Adam draws the moral himself: "But still I see the tenor of Man's woe / Holds on the same, from Woman to begin." Michael corrects him: "From Man's effeminate slackness it begins." Which is, of course, still blaming femininity for humanity's ills. He proceeds to show Adam a vision of war, which he claims to be "the product / Of those ill-mated Marriages thou saw'st." Finally, he gets to Noah and the Flood that sweeps away all this sinfulness, "and in thir Palaces / Where luxury late reign'd, Sea-monsters whelp'd / And stabl'd."
Gustave Doré, 1866

The Flood bums Adam out again: "O Visions ill foreseen! better had I  / Liv'd ignorant of all future, so had borne / My part of evil only, each day's lot / Anough to bear." That's the way it goes, Michael comments: People get too rich and prosperous and they "turn degenerate, all deprav'd, / Justice and Temperance, Truth and Faith forgot." The Flood will even sweep away the Garden of Eden:
                                   then shall this Mount
Of Paradise by might of Waves be mov'd
Out of his place, push'd by the horned flood,
With all his verdure spoil'd, and Trees adrift
Down the great River to the op'ning Gulf,
And there take root an Island salt and bare,
The haunt of Seals and Orcs, and Sea-mews' clang.
Adam's spirit perks up again when Michael tells him about Noah's virtue and the rainbow covenant that promises no more universal flooding, at least "till fire purge all things new." 

So on to the Tower of Babel, which will amuse the angels:  "great laughter was in Heav'n / And looking down, to see the hubbub strange / And hear the din." Adam also criticizes the presumptuousness of humankind for trying to build a tower up to Heaven. For example, how will he transport enough food up there to sustain the builders "where thin Air / Above the Clouds will pine his entrails gross, / And famish him of breath, if not of Bread?" Michael agrees, but points out that it's partly Adam's fault:
Since thy original lapse, true Liberty
Is lost, which always with right Reason dwells
Twinn'd, and from her hath no dividual being;
Reason in man obscur'd, or not obey'd,
Immedately inordinate desires
And upstart Passions catch the Government
From Reason, and to servitude reduce
Man till then free. 
In other words, true liberty consists in restricting the faculty of reason to those things that God ordains as correct material to reason about; otherwise, irrational passions take over and enslave humans.

Then God will get tired of humanity's folly and choose "one peculiar Nation ... From all the rest." He'll single out Abraham "and from him will raise / A mighty nation, and upon him show'r / His benediction so, that in his Seed / All Nations shall be blest." Of course, they'll have some trouble when they wind up in Egypt, and then they'll wander in the desert under Moses's leadership, but God will deliver the Ten Commandments to him, and establish the Laws.
Gustave Doré, 1866

Adam thanks Michael for telling him "what would become / Of mee and all Mankind," but he's rather bothered by something:
This yet I apprehend not, why to those
Among whom God will deign to dwell on Earth
So many and so various Laws are giv'n;
So many Laws argue so many sins
Among them; how can God with such reside? 
Well, don't forget that sin was "of thee begot," Michael points out. (He does tend to rub Adam's nose in it a lot.) "Law can discover sin, but not remove" it. So sacrifices and rituals of atonement are performed, and the Law is given to the people in anticipation of a greater sacrifice, a stepping stone toward "a better Cov'nant, disciplin'd / From shadowy Types to Truth, from Flesh to Spirit, / From imposition of strict Laws, to free / Acceptance of large Grace, from servile fear / To filial, works of law to works of Faith." Moses himself will not lead the children of Israel into Canaan, "being but the Minister / Of Law." They will be led by "Joshua whom the Gentiles Jesus call," a namesake of the Jesus "who shall quell / The adversary Serpent, and bring back / Through the world's wilderness long wander'd man / Safe to eternal Paradise of rest."
William Blake, 1808

He hurries through the reign of David and the Babylonian captivity before he gets to the birth of Christ. "The Law of God exact he shall fulfil / Both by obedience and by love, though love / Alone fulfil the Law." His death will redeem humankind for Adam's sin, "bruise the head of Satan," and defeat Sin and Death, and "then the Earth / Shall be all Paradise, far happier place / Than this of Eden, and far happier days."

Adam gets the point: His fall was a fortunate one. 
O goodness infinite, goodness immense!
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to good; more wonderful
Than that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of darkness! full of doubt I stand,
Whether I should repent me now of sin,
By mee done and occasion'd, or rejoice
Much more, that much more good therof shall spring,
To God more glory, more good will to Men
From God, and over wrath grace shall abound. 
Michael reminds him that there's a lot of history to be got through before all that happens, and there will be persecutions of the faithful and "so shall the World go on, / To good malignant, to bad men benign, / Under her own weight groaning, till the day / Appear of respiration to the just/ And vengeance to the wicked." But it'll all be worth it.

Adam thanks Michael for all this knowledge and for teaching him "that to obey is best, / And love with fear the only God," as well as "that suffering for Truth's sake / Is fortitude to highest victory, / And to the faithful Death the Gate of Life." Michael congratulates him for attaining "the sum of wisdom," and assures him that if he adds
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call'd Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far. 
He sends Adam to awaken Eve, whom he has given "Dreams ... Portending Good, and all her spirits compos'd / To meek submission." She tells Adam that she has had such dreams and tells him to "lead on," which is the same thing she said to the Serpent. Cherubim descend, and Michael takes Adam and Eve to the Eastern Gate, which will be barred by "dreadful Faces throng'd and fiery Arms" when they look back.
Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guid:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitary way.
Michael Burgesse, 1688
Simon François Ravenet, after Francis Hayman, 1749
William Blake, 1808
Gustave Doré, 1866
William Strang, 1896
Masaccio, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, c. 1424-28

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