Paradise Lost

If you haven’t read it, post why not, and I will try to quote a passage to persuade you to give it a try.

I know a dreary old classic is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is an experiment. Humor me with a semi-specific objection and let me see if I can come up with something.

I mean, don’t you just itch to be able to rebut someone who claims he can:

“justify the ways of God to men”?

Two possible reasons from Andrew Marvell’s On Mr. Miltons “Paradise Lost”

(The poem doesn’t rhyme).

(Our thoroughly secular age).

Hypothetical non-reader says: “But it doesn’t rhyme!”

Response: Milton claims Paradise Lost is so stupendous that:

I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

Perhaps it would be worth a read just to be able to puncture that swollen hubris?

Hypothetical non-reader says: “It’s about religion so who cares any more?”

Response: Aside from the usual arguments (know thy enemy, this is the source of almost everything popular culture knows about devils and hell), it’s got cool monsters! Milton says:

The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold,
Voluminous and vast–a serpent armed
With mortal sting. About her middle round
A cry of Hell-hounds never-ceasing barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal; yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there; yet there still barked and howled
Within unseen.

Man… its like… long. And I’m pretty sure theres no boobies in it.

It’s on my list of things to do eventually.

I have yet to finish Ulysses (only made it about half way the last time I attempted it). I figure once I tackle that beast, Milton will be as accessible as Seuss. :slight_smile:

Honestly, I’m sure part of the reason why many have not read it is:

[li]It’s poetry, and[/li][li]It’s really long. Just these first two are enough to disuade probably 95% or more of the reading public.[/li][li]It was published in the 1600’s. Antiquated verse in and of itself can be a challenge, and is not everyone’s cup of tea.[/li][li]The wealth of allusions. A person with limited classical/biblical knowledge might be hard-pressed to pick up on a lot of it. Therefore, the work of reading it with comprehension becomes more dificult and time-consuming.[/li][li]The last Harry Potter novel just came out. Now that people are done with those they might find time for Milton. Or, maybe if we got Oprah to feature it in her book club . . . ;)[/li][/ul]

I have no specific opinion one way or another on Paradise Lost but I would like to thank the OP for starting this thread and thereby doing their part to substantially raise Cafe Society’s highbrow quotient.

Not only boobies, it has The First Boobies!

  1. It’s a poem (maybe my English teachers are to blame, but they never enthused me with this form).

  2. It’s long and written in old English.

  3. I don’t wish to rebut (or even read) a mediaeval view of religion.

  4. Even its supporters say it’s dreary. :eek:
    Having said that, I think this is a good thread. :slight_smile:

You might mean “old” English in the “ye olde whore house” sense, but just in case: No, it isn’t. Beowulf is written in Old English. The Canterbury Tales are written in middle English. Paradise Lost is modern English, just more orinate. Think Shakespeare.

Dante gave a medieval view of religion. This was written like 400 years later.
That said, I’ve never read it. I’ve thought about it, but it hasn’t grabbed me.

Oh, come now. I know Milton was blind, but I don’t believe Mrs. Bush would have popped her top for him.

“How strange it seems that angels should with angels war.”

I still remember the line and, no, I have not read it but I did see a Readers’ Theater production of it at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois ages ago. It was quite good and although they certainly didn’t cover every word, they turned it into a very gripping production that held my interest.

I read it many years ago in grad school, along with Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and other works of Milton’s in a seminar focusing on his works. I think it’s helpful to have courses like this that focus on one author, rather than quick overviews, to understand where that person is coming from and how their ideas developed and progressed over the years. Thanks to that class, I could talk intelligently about Milton during my oral comps… but that was nearly 20 years ago and I don’t know how well I’d do today.

What I remember most about the poem is some of the imagery: Satan dragon-like after his fall, the archangel’s (Was it Gabriel or Uriel? Certainly not Michael!) rosy smile when he talks about heavenly love.

Boobies–that’s actually an easy one:

So spake our general mother, and with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreproved,
And meek surrender, half-embracing leaned
On our first father; half her swelling breast
Naked met his
, under the flowing gold
Of her loose tresses hid: he in delight
Both of her beauty, and submissive charms,
Smiled with superiour love, as Jupiter
On Juno smiles, when he impregns the clouds
That shed Mayflowers; and pressed her matron lip
With kisses pure: Aside the Devil turned
For envy; yet with jealous leer malign
Eyed them askance, and to himself thus plained.
Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two,
Imparadised in one another’s arms,
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss; while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines.

It is long–no way to refute that–though it would satisfy me if anyone would just be convinced enough to read Chapter I–probably the best one:

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost–the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power
Who, from the terror of this arm, so late
Doubted his empire–that were low indeed;
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since, by fate, the strength of Gods,
And this empyreal sybstance, cannot fail;
Since, through experience of this great event,
In arms not worse, in foresight much advanced,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal war,
Irreconcilable to our grand Foe

It is not actually dreary–it’s got war, action, adventure, demons turning into snakes:

So having said, a while he stood, expecting
Their universal shout, and high applause,
To fill his ear; when, contrary, he hears
On all sides, from innumerable tongues,
A dismal universal hiss, the sound
Of publick scorn; he wondered, but not long
Had leisure, wondering at himself now more,
His visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare;
His arms clung to his ribs; his legs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous serpent on his belly prone

It is not about religion per se (it is about God/Man/Evil/the Bible, so if that is religion than I am quibbling but it is about the beginning of the world when organized religion did not exist).

As to something that might grab someone, politics? freedom?:

Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor–one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

Part of the language issue arises from the fact that Milton was imitating Virgil’s Aeneid–he uses something called the “epic simile” which means that when he want to say that Satan’s prone body in the fire lake is as big as a whale, he has to catalog a bunch of classical allusions to really big things and sea monsters in particular, lots of them referred to by their characteristics and Latinate names. It is easier to be able to move through these once you get used to seeing them.

“How few sometimes may know when thousands err…”

Satan comes off as really, really cool in the poem, something that impressed me when I read it in college. The poem could be called The tragedy of Satan.

It’s a rip-off of Dante, which was a rip-off of the Aeneid, which rip-off’d Homer. It’s juvenile, deravative and calculating, posing as litchatchure.

It only survived because of the relegious theme, not on literary merits.

All above is IMO, thus not citeable

I have read Paradise Lost (several times), but if I were going to give a good reason not to read it, I’d give this one:

That? Total ripoff from Ludovico Ariosto. And Ariosto has more sex, and magical rings of invisibility, and St. John talking about how Jesus wouldn’t be nothin’ if it weren’t for him. So, if you can only read one, you should read the Orlando Furioso instead.

It’s not dreary, of course.

Hearing is believing – much better to listen to poetry than read. Blackstone Audiobooks has two versions. I can recommend Ralph Cosham’s reading, copyright 2006. Stay away from the 1993 version read by Frederick Davidson. (There’s a man who just should not narrate audiobooks.)

Aren’t you supposed to have read the Divine Comedy first?

(Or, more, I haven’t gotten around to reading either of them. I mean to…someday)

I would say, *Paradise Lost * before Divine Comedy, simply because a lot of it happens before Creation. Hell is in the process of being established. It’s the story of the fall of Satan, and war in Hell, before going into the Fall of Man.

It’s a supreme work of the imagination because those two subjects (fall of Satan, war in Hell) occupy very few lines in the Bible. Milton elaborates and expounds in hours of sublime poetry, and, being a Puritan, is not allowed to add or detract from God’s Word. He’s severely limited as to what he can portray. But that is part of the fun and ‘game’ of poetry, both reading and writing – willingly accepting the most rigid framework and then fitting the most majestic thought into it. Like Alexander Pope distilling The Iliad (and The Odyssey) completely into iambic pentameter rhyming couplets. His is my favorite Iliad, and just for that reason, no matter its relative merits vis a vis other Iliads or Odysseys. But the incredible thing is, even with such constraints, Milton and Pope create at the absolute highest level in these works.