Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Paradise Lost - day 18

I am still continuing my attempt to read Paradise Lost in one month. This week is really busy and next week I won’t have access to a computer over several days. So I’m going to cut how much I write – just a paragraph or two per 400 lines. That’s the only manageable way of doing this now. I’ve just reached the end of Book 7, at line 640.

Book 7 reads like an intermission, although I suppose it does reflect on Adam’s desire for knowledge and builds up to the point at which human desire takes that bite too far. But the information Adam asks Raphael – about how the world and humankind were created – is within Raphael’s brief from God. While Raphael is happy to tell Adam the creation story, his words contain a string in the tail, given the role that food was soon to play in the fall (L 126-130):

But knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind.

The rest of the book consists of a retelling of the Genesis myth. Milton manages to incorporate a number of contemporary cosmological theories into his account so as to avoid pinning God’s acts down to any one of them. The idea of light being created before the sun is dealt with ingeniously, for example. There is some fine poetry in sections of Book 7, although it’s not the most exciting part of Paradise Lost. However, the sound and rhythms are especially good here, just after the description of the creation of cows (L 463-74):

The grassy clods now calved, now half appeared
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,
And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce,
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head: scarce from his mould
Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved
His vastness: fleeced the flocks and bleating rose,
As plants: ambiguous between sea and land
The river horse and scaly crocodile.

And with great timing, the very last created thing before humankind is the serpent, the perfect touching-up of the official accounts (L 495-99):

The serpent subtlest beast of all the field,
Of huge extent sometimes, with brazen eyes
And hairy mane terrific, though to thee
Not noxious, but obedient at thy call.
Now heaven in all her glory shone…

Great irony in that last line of course. Raphael wraps up his account of creation with the creation of man and woman, and gives a final warning about the dangers of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God rests on the seventh day and the host of heaven sing their joy at it all, especially about how the plot of the rebels has failed. Although a number of rebel angels have been lost to heaven, the earth will make up for it, especially those who have been made in God’s image.

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