John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (the end)

The Son returns in glory, accompanied by the angels singing their praises. They ask the gates of heaven to open wide and get ready to be opened quite often, because from now on God and his messengers are going to visit the earth quite often. The road that is formed is the Milky Way.  The Son sits down with his Father, who of course was with him all the time, because he is omniscient, and they rest on the seventh day, listening to the songs played on various instruments.  In their song the angels praise the act of creation as even greater act than fighting off Satan, because creation is better than destruction. They describe the universe in all its glory, “every star perhaps a world/of destined habitation”, but that may come in time (and opens an interesting  perspective on Milton as a pioneer of S-F).  But of course the earth itself and the new race of worshippers is best of all. “This about answers your question about how the world was created”, says Raphael, “if you have any more questions, shoot”.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (ctd.)

On the sixth day God creates all the land animals, from big to small creepy-crawlies. They spring out from the earth fully formed, leaving the hillocks of freshly moved soil behind. The descriptions of lions pawing the ground with their front paws while their back paws are still back in the ground are quite striking. The cattle begin immediately to graze, but Milton skirts the question of what lions eat – do I remember correctly that before the Fall all animals were herbivorous, or is it from another apocryphal text? Raphael mentions also serpents, the “subtlest beast of all the field”, which Milton describes, surprisingly, as having “hairy manes”, which, as the Helpful Footnote explains, comes from Virgil. That goes to show you should not look for biological knowledge in poetry. After that God wants to create an intelligent creature which could “adore and worship God supreme”. Oh, I get it. Isn’t it why people keep dogs, to have creatures which adore and worship them? Anyway, God addresses his Son, saying “let us make now man in our image”, which also neatly sidesteps the problem many commentators had – why does the monotheistic God speak about himself in the plural? So he creates the man out of the ground and breathes life into his nostrils, but Milton is strangely cursory here, dedicating no more than three lines to the act. After all the great detailed descriptions of creating animals this feels weirdly anticlimactic. Then he creates Eve, but again Raphael doesn’t dwell on it, maybe assuming that Adam remembers everything that happens from that moment on. Raphael tells them about moving them both to Eden (so contrary to many paintings they were not created in Eden), reminds them about the big variety of fruit they have and about the one fruit they are not supposed to eat. It almost makes me think he should stop harping on this so much. If he just said casually “oh, I don’t recommend this one tree, it’s rather bitter and probably poisonous, just something went wrong with the creation”, all the tragedy wouldn’t happen.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (ctd.)

On the fourth day, God creates the sun, moon and stars. First he creates the shell of the sun, and then fills it with light, from which the stars drink like from a fountain and fill themselves up with light. The moon is placed opposite the sun and just reflects its light, says Milton and of course he is right. He also describes Venus as gilding her horns in the Sun’s beams and as the Helpful Footnote tells us, Galileo observed Venus in one of its phases as crescent-shaped, so it seems Milton did pay attention during his meeting with the famous astronomer. The fifth day is the creation of all animals that live in the sea and birds. I really don’t have much to say about it: they are created, they multiply, they move in great swarms. The only tidbit which shows that Milton’s grasp of biology was not as good as astronmy is when he describes the whale drawing in water “at his gills” and spouting it “at his trunk”, which I am pretty sure is not how whales work. But let’s not be too hard on Milton, who had to live his life without Planet Earth and still could beat me easily in so many subjects. (“Trivia Quiz with Milton” is going to be the name of my next show.)

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (ctd.)

The Son (who is now acting as God’s Word) tells the troubled waves of chaos to be silent, foreshadowing the words he is going to use in Mark 4:39. Then he takes a pair of golden compasses and draws a circumference which is going to be the circumference of the future universe. What follows is the poetic version of the book of Genesis: God first creates light, which arrives from the east in the form of a cloud, because there are no sun or stars yet where it could be located. He separates darkness from light and thus the first day and night take place. Then he creates the firmaments and it’s only now when I started to question the logic of this description: the firmament is supposed to separate the water above from the water under, but that implies the universe is surrounded by water, as Milton himself claims. But then, when he described Satan wandering through space, he didn’t describe him as swimming. Then he creates the earth, which is at this point all warm and gooey, and then he separates the water from dry land, and the waters are in such a hurry to do their master’s bidding they are like armies rushing to gather under their standard. After that, God orders the earth to produce plants and the earth is immediately covered with all sorts of plant. This is the end of the third day.

Yes, I know it’s Urizen (I am going to reach William Blake in like five years). But the image still works.

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John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (ctd.)

Raphael says kindly that he is going to tell Adam about the creation of the world, because there is nothing wrong with knowledge, as long as you keep your thirst for knowledge under control, and just like with food, you don’t overeat. (Meaning: watch out for the Tree of Knowledge!) But what words can express the beauty of creation! But he will try. So after the battle God says to his Son that even though Heaven lost one-third of its population, fortunately it is still populated enough. But lest should Lucifer boast he managed at least to make Heaven more empty (and this is the first time, I think, when the poem calls him by this name), God is going to create another race which in time, if it passes the muster, can ascend to Heaven, and his Son, acting as the executor, is going to be its maker. Raphael emphasizes that the process of creation is infinitely swift with God, but since he has to put the story into a verbal form, and all story-telling is by necessity linear, the listeners have to understand that they should not take the story literally. All the angels sing glory, and the Son sets out in his chariot, accompanied by numberless other angels. They stand at the brink of heaven and gaze into the abyss of Chaos, out of which the new world is going to emerge.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7

This book begins with yet another invocation (or proem), this time to Urania. Urania, the muse of astronomy, was refashioned by a 16th-c. French poet Du Bartas, into the muse of Christian poetry. But Milton gives her yet another twist – she is the sister of Divine Wisdom, the allegorical feminine figure described in the biblical Book of Proverbs. Milton asks her to help him come down on the Pegasus of his poetic inspiration from Heaven to Earth, so that he doesn’t tumble down. But he has also other reasons to ask her for protection: he asks her to drive away the revelers of Bacchus, and by that he doesn’t mean just drunkards outside his window. After the Restoration Milton was in danger of being executed in the traditional grisly manner with which traitors were dealt: disemboweled and dismembered, like some of his fellow republicans. This ties in quite neatly with the fate of the mythical Orpheus, torn to pieces by the Bacchantes, and his mother, the muse Calliope, couldn’t save him. Milton hopes the other muse, the light of the divine inspiration, won’t fail him, because she is “heavn’ly” while the other just “an empty dream”, making clear that although in his poem he mixes quite freely Greco-Roman mythology and Christianity, he can tell the difference between the two of them.

Having heard Raphael’s story, Adam muses for a while. But then he gets curious again and he asks Raphael to tell them the story of the creation of the world, telling him that apparently even the sun moves more slowly, because it wants to hear the story too, and if it finally sets down, and the moon and stars arrive to listen to him, telling stories in at night, when it is silent all around, is even better, and the sleep itself will stay up to listen to the story as well.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 6 (the end)

The son arrives on the battlefield accompanied by twenty thousand chariots and hearing his voice, the uprooted hills return to their place and cover themselves with flowers. He addresses Michael’s army, back in marching order, thanking them for their brave fight, but he says the final blow must be dealt by him, because it’s ultimately he and his elevation which caused Satan’s envy. The obdurate and desperate legions of Satan won’t give up, but soon they are overcome by the Son, his thunders and arrows shot by the four Cherubs (the ones from the book of Ezechiel which also became the symbols of the four Evangelists – the eagle, ox, lion and man). But the Son does not deploy the full force of his thunders – he throttles it at 50% so that he does not destroy the rebels entirely (but Milton avoids answering why). Instead, he drives them in front of him “as a herd/of goat or timorous flock” until they reach the perimeters of Heaven. The crystal wall of Heaven folds down to provide an opening for the rebel angels, who step back, scared of the void opening at their feet, but they are even more afraid of what is behind them and they throw themselves into the abyss. They are falling for nine days and Hell itself would have fled from them, but it was chained fast. Then they begin their endless punishment, while in Heaven the celebrations begin. Raphael ends this long story by repeating his warning to Adam that Satan is out there to seduce him in order to have a companion in his misery.