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Paradise Lost

John Milton


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful
Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen
Seed, In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme.

With these lines, Milton begins Paradise Lost and lays the groundwork for his project, presenting his purpose, subject, aspirations, and need for heavenly guidance. He states that his subject will be the disobedience of Adam and Eve, whose sin allows death and pain into the world. He invokes his muse, whom he identifies as the Holy Spirit. He asserts his hopes that his epic poem will surpass the other great epic poems written before, as he claims that his story is the most original and the most virtuous. He also asks his muse to fill his mind with divine knowledge so that he can share this knowledge with his readers. Finally, he hopes this knowledge and guidance from his muse will allow him to claim authority without committing any heresies, as he attempts to explain God’s reasoning and his overall plan for humankind.

Hail holy Light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached Light
Dwelt from Eternity, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
. . .
thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy Sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit’st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil’d. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Clear Spring, or shady Grove, or Sunny Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song . . .
. . .
So much the rather thou Celestial Light
Shine inward, and the mind through all powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
         (III.16; 2129; 5155)

These passages from Book III make up part of Milton’s second and longest invocation, which is also his most autobiographical and symbolic. Milton refers to light simultaneously as divine wisdom and literal light. When he speaks about his blindness he refers to both his inward blindness, or lack of divine wisdom, and his literal blindness, or loss of eyesight.

He begins by praising holy light as the essence of God. The idea that God is light was common before and during Milton’s time, and is a popular interpretation of certain biblical passages in Genesis. He then invokes his heavenly muse, the Holy Spirit, by reusing similar images and ideas from his first invocation; remember that Milton has asked for this heaven muse to illuminate “what in me is dark” (I.22). Symbolically, Milton asks for his muse to enter his body and fill him with divine knowledge.

Milton discusses his physical, outward blindness when he compares himself to other famous blind “Prophets old” (III.36), such as Homer (Maeonides) and Tiresias, and asks that he be filled with even more wisdom than them. He does not seek pity for his blindness, explaining that he is still active and undeterred from his poetic purpose. He believes that his outward blindness is insignificant, and that he hopes he is not inwardly blind. He hopes to sing beautifully like the darkling bird, which sings at night, unable to see who or what she is singing to. He ends his invocation by asking for his inward blindness to be corrected so that he can properly tell the story of Adam and Eve.

. . . though both
Not equal, as thir sex not equal seem’d;
For contemplation hee and valor form’d,
For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace,
Hee for God only, shee for God in him:
His fair large Front and Eye sublime declar’d
Absolute rule; and Hyacinthine Locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clust’ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
Shee as a veil down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevell’d, but in wanton ringlets wav’d
As the Vine curls her tendrils, which impli’d
Subjection, but requir’d with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best receiv’d,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet reluctant amorous delay.

The narrator makes these observations in Book IV as Adam and Eve prepare for bed. The narrator compares Adam and Eve based on their appearance and general demeanor, reasoning from that in order to assess their spiritual value. The argument behind the description lies in their different roles: since Adam was created for God, and Eve was created for both God and Adam, Eve’s purpose makes her less spiritually pure and farther removed from God’s grace. She serves both God and Adam and submits to Adam out of love and duty to God. He notes that Adam seems to be more intelligent and spiritually pure than Eve.

This assessment illustrates Milton’s belief that male and female genders and their roles are unequal. The Bible also speaks of these unequal roles, arguing that a wife should submit and serve her husband. These beliefs were common in Milton’s time, as many people believed they were sanctioned by the Bible. This apparent gender imbalance between Adam and Eve is continually portrayed throughout the rest of Paradise Lost.

What better can we do, than to place
Repairing where he judg’d us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground, and with our sighs the
Air Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign
Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek.
Undoubtedly he will relent and turn
From his displeasure; in whose look serene,
When angry most he seem’d and most severe,
What else but favor, grace, and mercy shone?
So spake our Father penitent, nor Eve
Felt less remorse: they forthwith to the place
Repairing where he judg’d them prostrate fell
Before him reverent, and both confess’d
Humbly their faults, and pardon begg’d, with tears
Watering the ground, and with their sighs the
Air Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign
Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek.

These lines at the end of Book X, first spoken by Adam, and then narrated by Milton, relate Adam and Eve’s decision to pray to God for forgiveness and their subsequent action of prayer. This point in the story finds Adam and Eve choosing between obedience and disobedience. Their repentance allows them to be forgiven, and their forgiveness allows for the possible redemption of humankind. These lines present the first step in humankind’s long search for salvation.

Much of Adam’s speech and Milton’s narration overlaps; many lines are repeated with only the tenses and pronouns changed. This use of repetition has a dramatic effect on a dramatic and important scene. Milton’s use of repetition gives his narration an emotional accuracy and compassionate tone. And the repetition places extra emphasis on their act of prayer, allowing readers to understand its extreme importance to the story. It also demonstrates that Adam and Eve repent exactly what they planned in the way they planned it, showing their dedication and determination to obey God strictly even after the fall.

This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of Wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knew’st by name, and all th’ ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Nature’s works,
Or works of God in Heav’n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all riches of this World enjoy’dst,
And all the rule, one Empire: 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 though not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far.

These lines are spoken by Michael to Adam in Book XII just before Adam and Eve are led out of Paradise. Michael tries to explain to Adam that even though Eve and him have fallen from grace and must leave Paradise, they can still lead a fruitful life. He tells Adam that he has attained all the wisdom he needs; any further knowledge is unnecessary. To assure their happiness, they should live their lives by seven tenets: obedience, faith, virtue, patience, temperance, love, and charity. Living by these tenets will allow them to create an inner Paradise. In contrast, the seven sins allow Satan to create his inner Hell, which he discusses in Book IV. Even though Satan is in Paradise, he feels as if he is still in Hell. Likewise, Adam and Eve can feel as if they never left Paradise if they live their lives accordingly. Heaven and Hell become more than just a place, they become a state of mind.

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