Saturday, June 28, 2014


I'm reading Paradise Lost.  Not for the first time, either.  I read it out of a sense of obligation the summer before I started grad school, in Sierra Madre, in 2000.  I had some idea that since I was going to grad school in poetry it would be expected, when I got there, that I had some sense of Milton.  In fact, Milton was referred to only one time during my entire tenure in grad school, by a student describing how a teacher had told him that he wrote like Milton. Which, I question if he did.

But anyway, Milton.  He was a poet.  He wrote, oh, Henry IV, Prometheus Bound, Ode on a Nightingale.  And, of lesser importance--a piece of juvenilia many have called it--Paradise Lost.

Anyway, my previous rencontre with Milton had been, let's say, unappealing.  (There's a much quoted Samuel Johnson line about Paradise Lost--nobody ever wished it longer--that came to me often then).  And I'd sort of accepted that Milton and I were never going to really gibe, as it were, until, somehow, in the last few weeks, returning to PL, I'm awe.  It's like the most jacked up, over-the-top parts of Shakespeare had been filtered through an incredibly convuluted syntax, and then weighted down with a metric ton of massively esoteric Classical allusions.  And yet for all that, it's amazing. It almost makes you want to become a stern judgmental Calvinist Christian.

Here's a taste.  It's in Book Two. The fallen angels are trying to find one of their number to attempt the perilous journey out of Hell, to earth....

all sat mute, [ 420 ]
Pondering the danger with deep thoughts; and each
In others count'nance read his own dismay
Astonisht: none among the choice and prime
Of those Heav'n-warring Champions could be found
So hardie as to proffer or accept [ 425 ]
Alone the dreadful voyage; till at last
Satan, whom now transcendent glory rais'd
Above his fellows, with Monarchal pride
Conscious of highest worth, unmov'd thus spake.
Progeny of Heav'n, Empyreal Thrones, [ 430 ]
With reason hath deep silence and demurr
Seis'd us, though undismaidlong is the way 
And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light;
Our prison strong, this huge convex of Fire,
Outrageous to devour, immures us round [ 435 ]
Ninefold, and gates of burning Adamant
Barr'd over us prohibit all egress.
These past, if any pass, the void profound
Of unessential Night receives him next
Wide gaping, and with utter loss of being [ 440 ]
Threatens him, plung'd in that abortive gulf.
If thence he scape into whatever world,
Or unknown Region, what remains him less
Then unknown dangers and as hard escape.
But I should ill become this Throne, O Peers, [ 445 ]
And this Imperial Sov'rantyadorn'd
With splendor, arm'd with power, if aught propos'd
And judg'd of public moment, in the shape
Of difficulty or danger could deterr
Me from attempting.