Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Paradise Lost - Part 23

Back to Paradise Lost in one month again, which I finished on holiday on 28 March. I’m going to blog through sections of roughly 200 lines until I’ve got to the end. This one is from Book 9, Line 1017 until the end of Book 9, at line 1189.

Adam and Eve have now both eaten the forbidden fruit and they’re on fire. Who wouldn’t be? Two beautiful people, in love, suddenly realising they’re stark naked. What’s more, they’re high on the fruit, drunk really, and are ruing the pleasure they believe they’ve lost through their previous abstention from eating. Adam says, “But come, so well refreshed, now let us play.” (L 1027) Sex before the fall was pretty amazing, and there’s argument between the experts over whether this sex after the fall achieves anything by way of contrast. Fowler says the “now let us play” is perfunctory, even “crude”, and I suppose that might be how Milton viewed it. Could it be a pun on “let us pray?” But I don’t know. They fall into “earth’s freshest, softest lap” and take “their fill of love.” (L 1041-42), which sounds OK. On the other hand, it does recall the woman of Proverbs chapter 7 who entices a young man into adultery with the words, “Come let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves,” which Milton also echoes in L 1043-44 (“their mutual guilt the seal,/ the solace of their sin”).

It’s only when they wake up that they feel horror and shame, the come-down from the drunken high, and they want, naturally enough, to hide from God. Adam is inconsolable (L 1080-90):

How shall I behold the face
Henceforth of God or angel, erst with joy
And rapture so oft beheld? Those heavenly shapes
Will dazzle now this earthly, with their blaze
Insufferably bright. O might I here
In solitude live savage, in some glad
Obscured, where highest woods impenetrable
To star or sunlight, spread their umbrage broad,
And brown as evening: cover me ye pines,
Ye cedars, with innumerable boughs
Hide me, where I may never see them more.

They cover their private parts with leaves and begin arguing over who was to blame. Milton gets the psychology spot on. Eve accuses Adam of not being firm enough in stopping her from going away to work by herself. If he had done what he ought to have done, the snake wouldn’t have found its opening. Adam plays his trump card by suggesting this doesn’t say much for her so-called love for him. These arguments and the way they’re conducted don’t change much down the centuries! The relationship is well on the rocks, and I guess "fruitless hours" must have been an irresistable pun (L 1187-89):

Thus they in mutual accusation spent
The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning
And of their vain contest appeared no end.

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