Sunday, March 09, 2008

Paradise Lost - Day 9

More Paradise Lost in one month. Today, I reached Book 4, Line 222.

I’d found Book 3’s theological discussion in heaven a touch long-winded and the description of Satan’s journey through Chaos was difficult to picture at times, but this latest section was really good. Satan, in the guise of a cherub, asks Uriel how to reach Eden, and does so with wonderfully ironic piety. Empson suggests part of the pious effect is achieved by packing his speech with “all’s” – "where all his sons thy embassy attend" (L 658), “all these his wondrous works” (L 663), “all these his works so wondrous” (L 665), “but all these shining orbs his choice to dwell" (L 670). I suppose it does have that effect!

Satan tells Uriel that he wants to reach the home-planet of man, “that I may find him, and with secret gaze/ Or open admiration him behold.” (L 671-72). These are very similar to the words King Herod used when asking the wise men to come back with information if they found the promised Messiah, while actually plotting to kill him.

I wondered why Uriel couldn’t see past Satan’s disguise. Hadn’t God informed him that Satan was in the vicinity? But Milton had also thought about that one (L 684-84):

For neither man nor angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone

Over and above that particular, Milton wants to give his good angels faults and limitations, so that it’s clear only God is supreme and perfect. Uriel marvels at God’s creation from nothingness and then points Satan towards the earth, where the sun shines by day and the moon wards off night’s complete darkness. Satan speeds towards his goal.

Book 4 opens with Milton wishing that some voice had been raised to warn Adam and Eve of their plight. Satan rushes towards Eden but not in the happiest state of mind (L 17-23)

horror and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The hell within him, for within him hell
He brings, and round about him, nor from hell
One step no more then from himself can fly
By change of place

There is some superb poetry in this Book, like the passage above and then later on as Satan’s doubts weigh him down. He sees the beauty and peace of Eden, and the terrible nature of his plot troubles even himself. God had been good to him before his initial rebellion, he remembers, and hadn’t deserved his evil reaction. His soliloquy is fantastic. Firstly, lines 73-83:

Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; my self am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.
O then at last relent: is there no place
Left for repentance, none for pardon left?
None left but by submission; and that word
Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame
Among the spirits beneath

And then lines 88-92:

Under what torments inwardly I groan;
While they adore me on the throne of hell,
With diadem and sceptre high advanced
The lower still I fall, only supreme
In misery; such joy ambition finds.

Cliff Richard asked why the devil should get all the best tunes. Well, Milton certainly gives the devil much of the best poetry. Despite his doubts and torment, Satan believes that if he repented, he would simply fall again, even if God chose to forgive him. So he loses hope and expresses that with yet more terrific lines:

So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my good

His change of mood causes his cherub-disguise to fall away and, unknown to Satan, Uriel is still watching him and realises it is Satan he’s sent towards Eden. Ominously, the scent of fruit trees greets Satan as he reaches Eden’s high walls, and he leaps over them, rather than using the gate, a reference to John 10:1, “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”

With shuddering irony, Satan lands on the tree of life where he sits like a cormorant “devising death/ To them that lived” (L 197-98). Next to him stands the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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