By Charles Matthews

Saturday, March 5, 2011

6. Paradise Lost, by John Milton, pp. 113-137

PARADISE LOST by John Milton, edited by Merritt Y. HughesBook V
Morning arrives, and Adam addresses a kind of aubade to Eve. But she's had a troubling dream, presumably caused by Satan's whispering in her ear last night. In it, she heard a voice she thought at first to be Adam's, urging her to go walking in the night. She went to the "Tree / Of interdicted Knowledge," where an angelic figure argued that she should taste of its fruit, and sampled some himself. Though "mee damp horror chill'd / At such bold words voucht with a deed so bold," eventually she yielded to the invitation and "Forthwith up to the Clouds / With him I flew." But she assures Adam that she was "glad ... To find this but a dream!" Adam tells her the "uncouth dream" was "of evil sprung I fear."
Engraving by Francis Hayman, 1749
Adam awakens Eve, by Gustave Doré, 1866

Okay, how does Adam know anything about evil? Isn't the whole point of the Tree of Knowledge that it awakens Adam and Eve to the concept of evil? Yet here we have Adam recognizing it right off, and Eve feeling something like guilt -- a consequence of the ability to know evil when you see it. In Eve's case, the reaction can be likened to a child's fear of the unknown, but Adam specifically identifies the dream as "evil," and questions where it could have come from: "Yet evil whence? in thee can harbor none, / Created pure." He decides that it's a product of "Fancy":
Evil into the mind of God or Man
May come and go, so unapprov'd, and leave
No spot or blame behind: Which gives me hope
That what in sleep thou didst abhor to dream,
Waking thou never wilt consent to do. 
He cheers her up, but nevertheless she weeps "a gentle tear ... From either eye," which he kisses as "the gracious signs of sweet remorse / And pious awe." "So all was clear'd," Milton assures us, though what isn't cleared is the fact that prelapsarian Adam and Eve seem to have a far more sophisticated knowledge of good and evil than they are supposed to have, including a concept of "remorse." How can you have that without the knowledge that you are supposed to feel remorseful for doing something wrong? 

Anyway, they set off to work after their morning prayers, which are "In various style, for neither various style / Nor holy rapture wanted they to praise / Thir Maker" -- in other words, they don't have a liturgy to follow by rote, but their praise of the maker flows out of untrained and spontaneous awe, unlike the scripted prayers of the established church. And in the conclusion of their prayers, the problematic note of awareness of evil arises once again:
                                            and if the night
Have gather'd aught of evil or conceal'd,
Disperse it, as now light dispels the dark.
Adam and Eve see Raphael approaching, by Gustave Doré, 1866

Meanwhile, God summons Raphael, "the sociable spirit," and sends him to "Converse with Adam." Milton follows Raphael's flight until he finds Adam sitting at the door of the bower while Eve prepares their dinner. Finding that they have a guest, Adam sends Eve off to get some more food and set another plate, which she does without complaint. This idealized domesticity does get a little heavy-handed, especially when Milton observes, "A while discourse they hold; / No fear lest Dinner cool."
Adam, Eve, and Raphael, by William Blake, 1808
Raphael lectures on cosmology, by Gustave Doré, 1866
Eve, Raphael, and Adam, by William Strang, 1896

Raphael goes on a while about the way all nature nourishes itself, and when Adam observes that Raphael seems to enjoy earthly food even though it must not be comparable to "Heav'n's high feasts," Raphael replies with a lecture on cosmology. All things, he says, proceed from "one first matter," which grows increasingly "more refin'd, more spiritous, and pure" as one ascends the great chain of being. Milton's concept of the chain is dynamic: The universe is a process of perpetual becoming:
                                                         So from the root
Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves
More aery, last the bright consummate flow'r
Spirits odorous breathes
Matter constantly passes into spirit, which is, Douglas Bush observed,  a kind of "optimistic monism."
And from these corporal nutriments perhaps
Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit,
Improv'd by tract of time, and wing'd ascend
Ethereal, as wee
Adam thanks him for the lesson, but he's bothered -- rightly -- by the command of obedience. Raphael explains that
God made thee perfet, not immutable; 
And good he made thee, but to persevere 
He left it in thy power, ordain'd thy will 
By nature free, not  over-rul'd by Fate 
Inextricable, or strict necessity; 
Our voluntary service he requires, 
Not our necessitated....
... freely we serve, 
Because we freely love, as in our will 
To love or not; in this we stand or fall: 
And some are fall'n, to disobedience fall'n, 
And so from Heav'n to deepest Hell; O fall
From what high state of bliss into what woe!
Again, this is knowledge of good and evil. What more can they learn from the fruit of the Tree?

Adam wants to know more, and points out that they have a lot of time for the story, as it's only midday. So Raphael launches into the story of the war in Heaven, though he points out that it was a spiritual conflict, not a physical ones, and that he's only describing it in physical terms because Adam wouldn't understand it otherwise:
                                 yet for thy good
This is dispens't, and what surmounts the reach
Of human sense, I shall delineate so,
By lik'ning spiritual to corporal forms. 
So he tells Adam about the day when God summoned all the "Angels, Progeny of Light, / Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers," to tell them that he has begotten a Son and put him in charge of all of them. There was much jubilation, including a
Mystical dance, which yonder starry Sphere
Of Planets and of fixt in all her Wheels
Resembles nearest, mazes intricate,
Eccentric, intervolv'd, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem:
And in thir motions harmony Divine
So smooths her charming tones, that God's own ear
Listens delighted. 
A dance to the music of the spheres, which is about as mystical as you get. But not everybody was dancing, especially "Satan, so call him now, his former name / Is heard no more in Heav'n." He who must not be named is usually identified as Lucifer, the light-bearer, who was "of the first, / If not the first Arch-Angel, great in Power, / In favor and preëminence, yet fraught with envy against the Son of God." (Again, Raphael is tipping Adam and Eve off about evil: the sin of envy, which presumably they have had no experience of.)

So Satan assembles his followers, which constituted "the third part of Heav'n's Host," to foment rebellion. God warns the Son about the uprising, and the Son assures his Father that he has things under control. In "The Palace of great Lucifer," Satan charges the Son with a power grab, and urges his followers to "cast off this Yoke." The speech goes over well with everyone except the seraph Abdiel (a character invented by Milton, using a biblical name that means "servant of God"), who accuses Satan of blasphemy. God, he says, "made / Thee what thou art, and form'd the Pow'rs of Heav'n / Such as he pleas'd, and circumscrib'd thir being," and who is Satan to challenge that? "Cease this impious rage," he orders, "but his zeal / None seconded." So he departs, "through hostile scorn, which he sustain'd / Superior":
Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyalty he kept, his Love, his Zeal.
It's a heroic moment equal or superior to Satan's more familiar heroic moments.

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