Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paradise Lost - Day 20

More Paradise Lost in one month. Today I reached Book 9, Line 204.

There’s a lot in this section, which will be a true test of my resolution to post shorter pieces about Paradise Lost – by necessity of time more than anything else. I think I might have to slip a couple of paragraphs above my ideal length tonight.

Back in Book 8, in a dream, Adam sees Eve being made from one of his ribs, and he wakes to find she really exists. He is immediately besotted by her, but still reckons she’s a less perfect image of God than he is himself! In that, he was in agreement with most of Milton's contemporary theologians. But none of that matters for the way he looks on her (L 551-53):

All higher knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded, wisdom in discourse with her
Looses discountenanced, and like folly shows

However, this discourse seems to worry Raphael. Adam’s desire and passion is surpassing his respect for wisdom and knowledge. Neither Raphael, nor Milton, are going to let him away with that (L 562-66):

Do thou but thine, and be not diffident
Of wisdom, she deserts thee not, if thou
Dismiss not her, when most thou needst her nigh,
By attributing overmuch to things
Less excellent

Raphael urges Adam to love Eve, but claims that passion and love are two different things. Reason couldn’t be allowed to fall under passion’s sway. The tradition was that passion only entered the world after the Fall, but Adam’s speech comes close to displaying passion – hence, Raphael’s alarm. Certainly, Adam’s fall is being patiently prefigured by Milton. Adam says that he feels deep desire but hasn’t been overcome by it (that’s a knife-edge position, as anyone who has felt desire for another human being will know!). Adam wants to know how angels love, and Raphael says they love like humans, except to an even higher degree. He doesn’t give away any more than that. Book 8 ends on an ominous note. The angel goes up to heaven “from the thick shade” (L 652) and Adam goes into his bower, previously described as “of thickest covert…interwoven shade.” At the beginning of Book 9, Milton mentions “Sin and her shadow Death” (Book 9, Line 8-9). The shadows are lengthening.

Book 9 begins with another invocation of the Muse, by whom Milton obviously believed he was completely possessed when writing. Satan, after being expelled from Eden, circles around for 7 nights (echoing the divine creation in 7 days), plotting his next move. Ingeniously, he metamorphoses into a “rising mist”. He marvels at the earth’s beauty and centrality, but his only pleasure can come with its destruction (L 129–32):

For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts; and him destroyed,
Or won to what may work his utter loss,
For whom all this was made

Satan speaks about his glory in, as he sees it, freeing the rebel angels from their servitude. He is angry that God, as he sees it, has replaced them with human beings, and is indignant that they appear to be served by angels. He finishes with a flourish, a typically great Satan-speech, as he decides to occupy the serpent (L 163-78):

O foul descent! that I who erst contended
With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrained
Into a beast, and mixed with bestial slime,
This essence to incarnate and imbrute,
That to the height of deity aspired;
But what will not ambition and revenge
Descend to? who aspires must down as low
As high he soared, obnoxious first or last
To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long back on it self recoils;
Let it; I reck not, so it light well aimed,
Since higher I fall short, on him who next
Provokes my envy, this new favourite
Of heaven, this man of clay, son of despite,
Whom us the more to spite his maker raised
From dust: spite then with spite is best repaid.

Satan finds a serpent, enters its mouth, possesses its brain, and waits for morning. Adam and Eve rise at the beginning of a new day…

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