Antilibrary

So many books to read, so little time.

The rich imagination of Paradise Lost

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For some time now Paradise Lost has been resting comfortably in my “anti-library”. John Milton’s epic of the Fall of Man is one of the great poems of the English language; but I got bogged down in chapter VIII, where Adam blathers on in the Garden of Eden. Recently I gritted my teeth and returned to the poem. I’m halfway through chapter X and closing in on the end.

One of the problems with Paradise Lost is that it’s long and long-winded. Another is that while Milton’s tale – about how Satan rebelled against God, was banished to hell, then sought revenge – is gripping, many elements of the story are preposterous to the modern eye. Like that in chapter X, where Sin – Satan’s daughter – and Death – Sin’s son and Satan’s son and grandson (yeah, that’s right – Satan begat Death by Sin) build a giant causeway from Hell to Earth across Chaos.

That said, Milton had a terrific turn of phrase. He gives the best lines to Satan and his lieutenants, as when Mammon declares his preference for “hard liberty before the easy yoke of servile pomp”. And Milton’s descriptions of Hell and Chaos – “a dark, Illimitable Ocean without bound” – are sublime.

“Into this wild abyss the wary Fiend, Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while, Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith, He had to cross.”

It’s this rich imagination which makes Paradise Lost an essential read.

Cross-posted at Kotare.

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Written by kotare1718

October 29, 2008 at 9:24 am

Posted in fiction

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. Eric Voegelin somewhere had a good discussion of Milton’s theology as a gnostic heresy, as demonstrated inter alia by making Satan the barely-disguised hero of Paradise Lost.

    The Snake’s Speech to Eve in Eden has to be read aloud. It is full of s-sounds. When you read it aloud it sounds like you are hissing, a snake speaking. Remarkable.

    Lexington Green

    October 29, 2008 at 9:02 pm


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