Paradise Lost (John Milton)

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I understand why most consider Milton to be difficult reading.  To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “You have to drink all of the epic simultaneously.”  Milton rarely lets you up for air. It occasionally pays off, though, for Milton can ascend to the highest literary planes. You can’t stay at that pace the whole time, though.  Our mortal coil cannot take large amounts of pure beams of light.

Meaning no disrespect to Milton, this work is fan fiction.  It just is. It’s marvelous fan fiction, but still. Milton apparently went beyond even the Apocrypha and drew upon hermetic sources. While interesting, this gets him in trouble as many of his claims are simply wrong.  More on that later.

Wonderful Literary Passages

Goal of the book: assert eternal providence and justify the ways of God to men (I:25).

* The description of Pandaemonium is one of those top ten moments of the English language (“Stygian council,” “hollow abyss,” .

*  “the reign of Chaos and old Night” (1:543; III:18).

*  “Of waters issued from a cave and spread/Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved/Pure as th’ expanse of heav’n” (IV: 454).

* Like the other great English poet Alexander Pope, Milton affirmed the chain of being, noting that “scale of nature set” (V:508) to which animals aspire to the angelic heights.

* “Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers/Hear my decree, which unrevoked shall stand” (V:601).

The Nature of God

Eternal: “wherein past, present, future he beholds” (III:78).  God’s foreknowledge does not cause man’s actions (III:118). From God “all things proceed, and up to him return” (V:469).

If you hold to the Boethian/Platonic view of time, you will enjoy Milton’s take: “For time, though in eternity, applied/To motion, measures all things durable/By past, present, and future” (V:580).

Man’s Free Will

Unfallen Adam was “sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (III:99).

Marriage: Pure and Conjugal

Milton represented the Puritan view of marriage and sex, which was infinitely superior than the Gnosticism that had crept into the church. He writes of Eve, “Yielded with coy submission, modest pride/And sweet reluctant amorous delay” (IV: 310). It was said by someone that the devil will try to get you into bed before your married and keep you out of it afterwards.  Milton would agree. He writes, “With kisses pure: aside the Devil turned/For envy, yet with jealous leer malign/Eyed them askance” (IV: 503; also see line 750).

Indeed, our conjugal love is that by “which perhaps no bliss enjoyed by us excites his [Satan’s] envy more” (IX: 263).  Nonetheless, Milton is aware of the dark path sexuality, even married sexuality, can take. Even in marriage it is possible, so argues Milton, to use the spouse as an object of lust.  Milton starkly notes this between Adam and Eve after the Fall: “Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve/Began to cast lascivious eyes, she him/As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn” (IX: 1013)

 

One thought on “Paradise Lost (John Milton)

  1. Pingback: Politically Incorrect Guide to English Literature | Architecture of the Mind

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