Tuesday April 27, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Paradise Lost
On this Day:
In 1667, Blind and impoverished, English poet John Milton sold the copyright of “Paradise Lost” for £10.
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674). The first version, published in 1667, consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout. It is considered to be Milton’s masterpiece, and it helped solidify his reputation as one of the greatest English poets of his time. The poem concerns the biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) was an English poet and intellectual who served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious and political instability, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). Written in blank verse, Paradise Lost is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
Writing in English and Latin, he achieved international renown within his lifetime; his celebrated Areopagitica (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history’s most influential and impassioned defences of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. His desire for freedom extended into his style: he introduced new words (coined from Latin and Ancient Greek) to the English language, and was the first modern writer to employ unrhymed verse outside of the theatre or translations.
William Hayley’s 1796 biography called him the “greatest English author”, and he remains generally regarded “as one of the pre-eminent writers in the English language”, though critical reception has oscillated in the centuries since his death (often on account of his republicanism). Samuel Johnson praised Paradise Lost as “a poem which…with respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind”, though he (a Tory and recipient of royal patronage) described Milton’s politics as those of an “acrimonious and surly republican”. Poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy revered him.
The poem Paradise Lost follows the epic tradition of starting in medias res (in the midst of things), the background story being recounted later.
Milton’s story has two narrative arcs, one about Satan (Lucifer) and the other, Adam and Eve. It begins after Satan and the other fallen angels have been defeated and banished to Hell, or, as it is also called in the poem, Tartarus. In Pandæmonium, the capital city of Hell, Satan employs his rhetorical skill to organise his followers; he is aided by Mammon and Beelzebub. Belial and Moloch are also present. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers to corrupt the newly created Earth and God’s new and most favoured creation, Mankind. He braves the dangers of the Abyss alone, in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus or Aeneas. After an arduous traversal of the Chaos outside Hell, he enters God’s new material World, and later the Garden of Eden.
At several points in the poem, an Angelic War over Heaven is recounted from different perspectives. Satan’s rebellion follows the epic convention of large-scale warfare. The battles between the faithful angels and Satan’s forces take place over three days. At the final battle, the Son of God single-handedly defeats the entire legion of angelic rebels and banishes them from Heaven. Following this purge, God creates the World, culminating in his creation of Adam and Eve. While God gave Adam and Eve total freedom and power to rule over all creation, he gave them one explicit command: not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on penalty of death.
The story of Adam and Eve’s temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented as having a romantic and sexual relationship while still being without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan, disguised in the form of a serpent, successfully tempts Eve to eat from the Tree by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric. Adam, learning that Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another – if she dies, he must also die. In this manner, Milton portrays Adam as an heroic figure, but also as a greater sinner than Eve, as he is aware that what he is doing is wrong.
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex. At first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial. However, they soon fall asleep and have terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realising that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination.
Meanwhile, Satan returns triumphantly to Hell, amid the praise of his fellow fallen angels. He tells them about how their scheme worked and Mankind has fallen, giving them complete dominion over Paradise. As he finishes his speech, however, the fallen angels around him become hideous snakes, and soon enough, Satan himself turns into a snake, deprived of limbs and unable to talk. Thus, they share the same punishment, as they shared the same guilt.
Eve appeals to Adam for reconciliation of their actions. Her encouragement enables them to approach God, and sue for grace, bowing on supplicant knee, to receive forgiveness. In a vision shown to him by the Archangel Michael, Adam witnesses everything that will happen to Mankind until the Great Flood. Adam is very upset by this vision of the future, so Michael also tells him about Mankind’s potential redemption from original sin through Jesus Christ (whom Michael calls “King Messiah”).
Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, and Michael says that Adam may find “a paradise within thee, happier far.” Adam and Eve now have a more distant relationship with God, who is omnipresent but invisible (unlike the tangible Father in the Garden of Eden).
The writer and critic Samuel Johnson wrote that Paradise Lost shows off “[Milton’s] peculiar power to astonish” and that “[Milton] seems to have been well acquainted with his own genius, and to know what it was that Nature had bestowed upon him more bountifully than upon others: the power of displaying the vast, illuminating the splendid, enforcing the awful, darkening the gloomy, and aggravating the dreadful.”
Milton scholar John Leonard interpreted the “impious war” between Heaven and Hell as civil war:
Paradise Lost is, among other things, a poem about civil war. Satan raises ‘impious war in Heav’n’ by leading a third of the angels in revolt against God. The term ‘impious war’ implies that civil war is impious. But Milton applauded the English people for having the courage to depose and execute King Charles I. In his poem, however, he takes the side of ‘Heav’n’s awful Monarch’. Critics have long wrestled with the question of why an antimonarchist and defender of regicide should have chosen a subject that obliged him to defend monarchical authority.
The editors at the Poetry Foundation argue that Milton’s criticism of the English monarchy was being directed specifically at the Stuart monarchy and not at the monarchy system in general.
In a similar vein, critic and writer C.S. Lewis argued that there was no contradiction in Milton’s position in the poem since “Milton believed that God was his ‘natural superior’ and that Charles Stuart was not.” Lewis interpreted the poem as a genuine Christian morality tale.[page needed] Other critics, like William Empson, view it as a more ambiguous work, with Milton’s complex characterization of Satan playing a large part in that perceived ambiguity. Empson argued that “Milton deserves credit for making God wicked, since the God of Christianity is ‘a wicked God.'” Leonard places Empson’s interpretation “in the [Romantic interpretive] tradition of William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley.”
Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the central character of John Milton’s Paradise Lost c. 1866
Blake famously wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” This quotation succinctly represents the way in which some 18th- and 19th-century English Romantic poets viewed Milton.
Speaking of the complexity of Milton’s epic are John Rogers’ lectures which try their best to synthesize the “advantages and limitations of a diverse range of interpretive techniques and theoretical concerns in Milton scholarship and criticism.”
Empson’s view is complex. Leonard points out that “Empson never denies that Satan’s plan is wicked. What he does deny is that God is innocent of its wickedness: ‘Milton steadily drives home that the inmost counsel of God was the Fortunate Fall of man; however wicked Satan’s plan may be, it is God’s plan too [since God in Paradise Lost is depicted as being both omniscient and omnipotent].'” Leonard calls Empson’s view “a powerful argument”; he notes that this interpretation was challenged by Dennis Danielson in his book Milton’s Good God (1982).
Milton’s magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664 (first edition), with small but significant revisions published in 1674 (second edition). As a blind poet, Milton dictated his verse to a series of aides in his employ. It has been argued that the poem reflects his personal despair at the failure of the Revolution yet affirms an ultimate optimism in human potential. Some literary critics have argued that Milton encoded many references to his unyielding support for the “Good Old Cause”.
On 27 April 1667, Milton sold the publication rights for Paradise Lost to publisher Samuel Simmons for £5 (equivalent to approximately £770 in 2015 purchasing power), with a further £5 to be paid if and when each print run sold out of between 1,300 and 1,500 copies. The first run was a quarto edition priced at three shillings per copy (about £23 in 2015 purchasing power equivalent), published in August 1667, and it sold out in eighteen months.
Milton followed up the publication Paradise Lost with its sequel Paradise Regained, which was published alongside the tragedy Samson Agonistes in 1671. Both of these works also reflect Milton’s post-Restoration political situation. Just before his death in 1674, Milton supervised a second edition of Paradise Lost, accompanied by an explanation of “why the poem rhymes not”, and prefatory verses by Andrew Marvell. In 1673, Milton republished his 1645 Poems, as well as a collection of his letters and the Latin prolusions from his Cambridge days (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
An Englishman, a Frenchman and a Russian are standing in a museum looking at a painting of Adam and Eve frolicking in the garden of Eden. The three stare at it intently.
“Look at their reserve, their calm,” muses the British man. “They must be British.”
The three of them ponder this possibility for a moment before the Frenchman and the Russian shake their heads in disagreement. “Nonsense,” says the Frenchman. “They’re naked and so beautiful, enjoying the best of life. Clearly they are French.”
The Brit and Russian agree on this point, but after a moment the Russian shakes his head again. “No clothes, no shelter…” He muses. “Also, they have only an apple to eat but they’re told this is Paradise. They are clearly Russian!”
Second, a Song:
Elias Näslin (@eliasnaslin) is a record producer & songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden.
Shawn Hoo has mashed Elias Näslin performing his song Paradise to a video of the song’s lyrics. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” – John Milton
Further to the Olympic Ice Hockey Smile, Frank Fowlie of Richmond, BC, Canada writes:
“I Believe is a great song, thanks for sharing it anew.”
Sandy Weames of Campbell River, BC, writes:
We were able to catch a women’s hockey game at the 2010 Olympics. It was lots of fun.
I am also from the Great One’s home town.
Yes I do miss watching hockey live.”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky