Tuesday 4 March 2014

Paradise Lost Read-Along Books XI & XII

Paradise Lost Read-Along

Book XI

Heaven hears Adam and Eve's prayers for restoration and the Son intercedes on their behalf with the Father:

" ……….. Now, therefore, bend thine ear
To supplication; hear his sighs, though mute;
Unskilful with what words to pray, let me
Interpret for him, me his advocate
And propitiation; all his works on me,
Good or not good, ingraft; my merit those
Shall perfect, and for these my death shall pay." (30 - 36)

God accepts His Son's sacrifice but divulges that they must leave Paradise as they are tainted with sin.  They have lost Happiness and Immortality which are replaced by the "final remedy," Death.

" …………….. so Death becomes
His final remedy, and after life
Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined
By faith and faithful works, to second life."  (61 - 64)

Sadly, man now knows both good and evil when he should have been content to know good only.

God commissions the angel Michael to take from among the Cherubim "flaming warriors" and return to to the Garden to evict the luckless couple, yet if they are obedient, he will reveal a new covenant to them.

As Michael prepares to descend, Adam tells Eve he anticipates that God will hear their prayers and that they will live instead of perish.  Though she feels herself unworthy of forgiveness, she is grateful for the pardon and suggests they live in the Garden "though in fallen state, content."  Yet Adam anticipates that they have not understood all the changes that will arise from their fall and with his assumption, down comes Michael "from a sky of jasper," "a glorious apparition."  He indeed confirms that their humble prayers were heard and that "one bad act with many good deeds well-done may'st cover."  However he cannot allow them to remain in Paradise.

Adam laments, "heart-struck, with chilling gripe of sorrow stood, that all his senses bound"; and Eve cries her protest.  But Michael gives her a response that is at once wise and universal:

"Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign
What justly thou hast lost, nor set thy heart
Thus overfond, on that which is not thine."  (287 - 289)

Adam shares his fear that he will no longer be able to be close to God, yet Michael comforts him.

"Yet doubt not but in valley and in plain
God is as here, and will be found alike
Present, and of his presence many a sign
Still following thee, still compassing thee round
With goodness and paternal love ….."  (349 - 353)

Michael then takes Adam up the hill of Paradise to show him all the torment, tragedy, hatred, violence, misery and disease that will be a result of their sin. He sees Cain and Abel; death and sorrow.  Adam despairs, whereupon Michael gives him advice for living:  "the rule of not too much, by temperance taught," "nor love thy life nor hate, but what thou liv'st live well; how long or short permit to Heaven."  He relates the story of Noah and how God promises never to destroy the Earth again by flood.

Adam, Eve and the archangel Michael
by Gustave Doré

Book XII

Still revealing the future, Michael discourses on how the "second source of men" will have the judgement fresh in their minds and therefore will exist peacefully for a long time until Nimrod builds the Tower of Babel to reach to Heaven and God punishes him, visiting on the people a confusion of language and cacophonous din.  Appalled, Adam censures the attempt of man to dominate man, as it was never in God's plan; birds, beasts, fish and fowl were to be in subjection of man, yet "man over men he made not lord" instead intending "human left from human free."  Michael agrees, stating:

"……….. Justly though abhorr'st
That son, who on the quiet state of men
Such trouble brought, affecting to subdue
Rational liberty; yet know withal,
Since thy original lapse, true liberty
Is lost, which always with right reason dwells
Twinned, and from her hath no dividual being
Reason in Man obscured, or not obeyed,
Immediately inordinate desires
And upstart passions catch the government
From Reason, and to servitude reduce
Man, till then free.  Therefore, since he permits 
Within himself unworthy owers to reign
Over free reason, God, in judgement just,
Subjects him from without to violent lords,
Who oft as undeservedly enthral
His outward freedom.  Tyranny must be,
Though to the tyrant thereby no excuse.
Yet sometimes nations will decline so low
From virtue, which is reason, that no wrong,
But justice, and some fatal curse annexed,
Their inward lost ………….."  (79 - 101)

After Noah, men begin to worship idols and slavery ensues, yet God calls Abraham, the blessed patriarch, and through his line a "Great Deliverer" will come who will "bruise the Serpent's head."  Michael's speech continues through Moses.  When Adam asks why "so many laws and so many sins among them; how can God with such reside?", the angel explains "law was given them, to evince their natural pravity".  His narrative progresses through the Old Testament to the Messiah whereupon Adam rejoices at the coming conqueror yet Michael corrects his misconception.  Salvation will not be obtained by battle but by "obedience and by love, through love alone fulfil the Law"; Christ will defeat Sin and Death, then Earth "shall all be Paradise, far happier place than this of Eden, and far happier days."  Adam asks if he should repent of his sin or rejoice at the good that will spring from it and who will be the guide for God's people.  Michael says God will send His Spirit and also there is the Church but he goes on to warn about false teachers full of ambition, superstitions and traditions that will "taint", using the Church to gain wealth and secular power.  Corruption will reign:

"……….. Yet many will presume,
Whence heavy persecution shall arise
Of all who in the worship persevere
Of Spirit and Truth; the rest, far greater part,
Will deem in outward rites and specious forms
Religion satisfied; Truth shall retire
Bestuck with slanderous darts, and works of Faith
Rarely be found; so shall the World go on,
To good malignant, to bad men benign,
Under her own weight groaning ……"  (530 - 538)

…. until the return of the Lord.  Michael instructs Adam to:

"………………… Only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable; add faith;
Add virtue, patience, temperance; add love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul 
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far."  (581 - 587)

Adam wakes Eve who has been consoled in her dream by the hope of her seed to come.  Michael takes one of their hands in each of his and then leads them from the Garden of Paradise:

"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."  (645 - 649)

The Explusion of Adam & Eve from Paradise
by Benjamin West (1791)
source Wikipaintings


Wow, what a marathon ending!  These last two books appeared rushed to me; Milton packed nearly the whole Old Testament teachings into these two books/chapters.  Again, I'm not an expert in poetry, but the sound, tone and pacing of the poem did not feel as grand, as beautiful or as skilfully woven, when compared to the rest.  There were certainly brilliant moments, but only snacks here and there instead of the smorgasbord to which we've become accustomed.  In fact, it is certainly ironic that these two chapters were so packed with information, yet I'm having to think harder to find areas of the poem to comment on.

When Michael showed Adam the future, he gave him images in book XI but only narrative in Book XII. Was this because Adam would be overwhelmed by the visual evidence of the results of their sin?  Or is it simply the structure Milton chose for the poem?

For the first time, I noted a commentary on his own times inserted into the text, and his push for a "rational liberty." (see above, Book XII, lines 79 - 101) However as interesting as it was, again I felt it was rushed or inserted before the poem end, a pet topic that Milton felt the need to bring to the forefront.

Historically, there are so many Paradise Lost paintings/engravings of stern angels pointing the way out of Heaven, and Adam and Eve running like stricken and tragic sinners, yet actually the angel gave them hope and then gently led them out of the Garden.  Within a destructive, disastrous, heartbreaking circumstance, Milton did a spectacular job of revealing hope and restoration without altering their condition, a lovely combination of encouragement, pathos and reality.

Not only can I not believe that I've come to the end of this read, I can't believe that I waited so long to read it.  Milton's verse is so grand and beautiful!  I will definitely read this again in the very near future. Final review to come ………….

Milton dictated to his daughters the (Paradise Lost)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikipaintings

No comments:

Post a Comment