Thursday 6 February 2014

Paradise Lost Read-Along Book V and VI

Paradise Lost Read-Along

Book V

Eve awakes, disturbed by the dream she had experienced and relates it in detail to Adam, who tries to comfort her by minimizing its importance.  The reader is left with this beautiful and poignant image:

"So cheered he his fair spouse, and she was cheered
But silently a gentle tear let fall
From either eye, and wiped them with her hair;
Two other precious drops that ready stood,
Each in their crystal sluice, he, ere they fell,
Kissed as the gracious signs of sweet remorse
And pious awe, that feared to have offended."

God sends the angel Raphael to the bower of Adam and Eve to warn them of the treacherous foe near them and to remind them of their freedom as human beings to choose right from wrong.  Raphael arrives in great splendour:

"A Seraph winged.  Six wings he wore, to shade
His lineaments divine:  the pair that clad
Each shoulder broad came mantling o'er his breast
With regal ornament; the middle pair
Girt like a starry zone his waist, and round
Skirted his loins and thighs with downy gold
And colours dipped in Heaven; the third his feet
Shadowed from either heel with feathered mail,
Sky-tinctured grain.  Like Maia's son he stood,
And shook his plumes, that heavenly fragrance filled 
The circuit wide ……"

Eve begins to prepare choice delicacies for their visitor and the reader gets more evidence of the hierarchical structure of the poem:

"Nearer his (Raphael's) presence, Adam, though not awed,
Yet with submiss approach and reverence meek,
As to a superior nature, bowing low .."

Potent images of the delightful beauty of the garden abound.  Raphael takes a moment to caution Adam with regard to his obedience.  Again free will is emphasized:

"…….. That thou art happy, owe to God;
That thou continuest such, owe to thyself."

God has given man happiness, but it is in man's power to keep it or lose it based upon his choices.

Raphael then begins to relate the story of the war of the angels in Heaven, telling of Satan's jealousy of the Son's elevation.  Satan counsels his followers to "cast off the yoke", stating that "if not equal all, yet free, equally free."  But Abdiel, a Seraphim, abhors Satan's "counterfeited truth" and delivers a heated speech condemning his evil words.  When mocked by the rebel angels, "with retorted scorn his back he turned on those proud towers, to swift destruction doomed."

Raphael conversing with Adam and Eve
by John Martin (1826)

Book VI

Civil war rages in Heaven.  Satan and Abdiel have a battle of words, Satan stating that it is liberty that he is fighting for, and mocking those who are lazy and choose only to serve, whereupon Abdiel retorts:

"……………. This is servitude
To serve the unwise, or him who hath rebelled
Against his worthier, as thine now serve thee,
Thyself not free, but to thyself enthralled;
Yet lewdly dar'st our ministering upbraid.
Reign thou in Hell, thy kingdom …….  " (178-183)

The battle scenes reminded me so clearly of the battle scenes in The Iliad.  Satan has "all his right side" sheered by the sword of Michael and "first knows pain."  His removal from the field is modelled on the rescue of Hector during one of the battles in The Iliad.  Then:

"Gnashing for anguish, and despite, and shame
To find himself not matchless, and his pride
Humbled by such rebuke, so far beneath
His confidence to equal God in power."

Michael & Satan
by Guido Reni (c. 1636)
source Wikipedia

Like all Spirits, he is soon healed and withdraws to make a huge machine (a cannon?) to enable them to gain "honour, dominion, glory and renown."  Honestly, the next part I had a difficult time figuring out what was going on.  It sounded like Heaven's angels were easy targets, so they retreated into the mountains, lifted up the very same mountains and hills, and flung them onto the rebel angels & their war weapon, burying them beneath the mountains' flinty bases, and making their escape labourious and painful.  On the third day, God sends the Son into battle but Satan will not give over:

"Insensate, hope conceiving from despair.
In Heavenly Spirits could such perverseness dwell?
But to convince the proud what signs avail,
Or wonders move the obdurate to relent?
They, hardened more by what might most reclaim,
Grieving to see his glory, at the sight
Took envy, and, aspiring to his height,
Stood re-embattled fierce, by force or fraud
Weening to prosper, and at length prevail
Against God and Messiah, or to fall
In universal ruin last ………"

Satan prefers destruction; he will not comprise one iota!  Yet the Son of God routs the evil forces with little effort:

"Yet half his strength, he put not forth, but checked
His thunder in mid-volley, for he meant
Not to destroy but root them out of Heaven."

Ejected from Heaven in disgrace, Satan and his angels fall nine days before being buried in the pit of Hell.  At the end of Raphael's story, he once again cautions Adam against disobedience.

"Of those too high aspiring who rebelled
With Satan; he who envies now thy state,
Who now is plotting how he may seduce
Thee also from obedience, that, with him
Bereaved of happiness, thou may'st partake
His punishment, eternal misery,
But listen not to his temptations; warn
Thy weaker, let it profit thee to have heard,
By terrible example, the reward
Of disobedience; firm they might have stood,
Yet fell; remember, and fear to transgress."

Michael casts out the rebel angels
by Gustave Doré
source Wikipedia

I really like Abdiel.  He was the only one to stand up to Satan and all his rebel angels, possibly endangering himself, yet confront them he did!  He also is the first to engage Satan during the battle and, speaking words of truth, certainly puts him in his place.

Milton gives us a beautiful image of Raphael, with his six wings almost singing a breeze, wafting a heavenly fragrance that must have been like pure spring.

Satan, as a character, is extremely interesting, yet not particularly complex.  Time after time he ignores the evidence in front of him and is certain of victory, or that his own wishes are impossible to deny.  Milton refers often to his "pride" but it is something much more nefarious and eternally damaged. Truth is simply inconceivable to him, he cannot even get close to it.  It is fascinating to watch in a rather unsettling way.


  1. Oops, I missed the part about Raphael having six wings. I do remember something about him smelling nice ... LOL. I admired how Abdiel stood up to Satan and was brave enough to leave and return to God's side. It's amazing he wasn't punished by either of them.

    1. Yes, he had a pair on his shoulders, a pair at his waist and a pair on his feet. I initially imagined them all in one place and layered; I actually prefer that image so I will continue to think of him that way. :-)

      I, too, was surprised Satan and his angels let Abdiel go. It took alot of guts to say what he did among those ruffians and then walk away, cutting a swath right through them. Wow!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I read Paradise Lost in college and it sure was challenging but also completely rewarding. Talk about epic. I will be following your thoughts on it. I am loving your blog!

    1. Thanks, Jason! I'm enjoying it even more than I thought I would. I had never read any Milton before, but if his other works are as beautiful and alive as Paradise Lost, I'm a fan. In any case, I need to start reading poetry more regularly. I've noticed that it's sadly lacking on my Classics Club list.