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Flutt'ring his pennons vain, plumb down he drops
The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,
And Milton cannot end the second book without an extra malediction:
Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge,
Accursed, and in a cursed hour he hies.29
In the third book, when Satan goes by the bottom of
The stars were then let down, whether to dare
His sad exclusion from the doors of bliss.30
And Book IV opens on another outburst:
O for that warning voice, which he who saw
While time was, our first parents had been warn'd
The coming of their secret foe, and 'scaped,
Of that first battle and his flight to hell.31
And so on through the poem. We have seen Milton at this sort of work, relentlessly pursuing and insulting the author of Eikon Basilike, or Salmasius or More in the Defences. The insult which ends Book II is particularly
28 II, 932-38.
30 III, 523-25.
31 IV, 1-12.
reminiscent of the ending of many chapters in the Defensio prima, where Salmasius receives each time a surplus hit. Milton treats Satan as he had treated the anonymous Gauden or the celebrated Salmasius: as a personal enemy.
But not only in the fierceness of his personal relationship to Satan is Milton discoverable in Paradise Lost. The whole experience of his life has been poured into the poem. The wonderful eloquence of the council in hell is an echo from a period of passionate Parliamentary life. Each orator gives such powerful arguments that one feels he must carry the assembly; but each succeeding orator is more powerful than his predecessor, and the whole culminates in Satan's finest piece of diplomacy. And the war in heaven is a civil war, characterized by the bitterness of feeling and language peculiar to internal broils.
The summary of Milton's experience of private life, too, is here, in the charming and deeply human relationship between Adam and Eve. And we cannot refrain from pointing out one more proof of the humanity of the poet in that scene, admittedly imitated from Milton's reconciliation with his wife, in which Eve's humble affection opens the way back to life. Here Milton happily forgets his theories of the predominance of reason, and the influence of "female charm" on Adam is this time his salvation:
Forsake me not thus, Adam. Witness, Heav'n,
Unhappily deceived. Thy suppliant
I beg, and clasp thy knees. Bereave me not,
My only strength and stay. Forlorn of thee,
She ended weeping, and her lowly plight,
And thus with peaceful words upraised her soon.32
And here again Milton is the hero of his own epic.
II. GOD IN PARADISE LOST: THE DIVINE IRONY
Compared with the intense and active life of the party of Satan, and with the pathetic and richly human life of the first human couple, the life of the heavenly party can hardly be said to count. Yet there is one feeling Milton has touched upon-one feeling that might have been susceptible of rich development, both poetical and philosophical, in his treatment of the Divinity.
Since the divine plans are laid from all eternity, since God has foreseen all the manifestations of the free creatures and has provided for them—or against them, the only feeling that may yet move God with regard to the efforts directed against him, or even those that aim at knowledge of him, is a feeling of irony: the irony of intelligent Fate looking on at the vain struggles of beings submitted to inevitable law. In order, however, to deal adequately with this subject, perhaps a poet should be a 32 X, 914-46.
heathen-Goethe himself got some of this irony only into Mephistopheles- and he should not believe so thoroughly as did Milton in the essential freedom of beings. Besides, Milton had not the intellectual agility, nor the perfect tact, nor the deep bitterness of feeling, necessary to paint such a picture. Therefore his traits are heavy and lacking in poetry and depth. He saw the possibilities of the theme, but he could not fully exploit them. Nevertheless, he had the merit of seeing the situation. Thus, he makes God say to his Son when the angels rebel:
Nearly it now concerns us to be sure
Of our omnipotence, and with what arms
Is rising, who intends to erect his throne
Let us advise, and to this hazard draw
This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill.
To whom the Son, with calm aspect and clear,
Lightning divine, ineffable, serene,
Made answer. Mighty Father, thou thy foes
Justly hast in derision, and, secure,
Laugh'st at their vain designs and tumults vain.33
The same irony accompanies man's fruitless efforts towards knowledge:
Or if they list to try
Conjecture, he his fabric of the Heav'ns
33 V, 718-34.
Hereafter, when they come to model Heav'n
And the laughter of Heaven is on men's confusion over the Tower of Babel:
But God, who oft descends to visit men
And looking down, to see the hubbub strange,
On two occasions, however, this divine irony is tempered with compassion - a feeling befitting the Divinity. The first is when Adam asks for a suitable mate,
Whereto th' Almighty answer'd, not displeased:
A nice and subtle happiness I see
Thou to thyself proposest, in the choice
Of thy associates, Adam, and wilt taste
No pleasure, though in pleasure, solitary.
What think'st thou then of me, and this my state?
Of happiness, or not, who am alone
From all eternity? 36
And the second is when God allows himself a last remark, quite justified after all, before accepting, as is befitting,
34 VIII, 75-84.
35 XII, 48-62.
36 VIII, 398–406.