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Thread: So whatís so great about Paradise Lost?

  1. #1
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    So whatís so great about Paradise Lost?

    Iíll tell you whatís so great about it. Everything. I just finished reading this for the first time and, in a word, I found it amazing. (In two words: absolutely amazing.)

    This thing is beautiful. You could take out of it any 10 or 12 lines completely at random and youíd have yourself a wonderful poem.

    Here, letís try it. Okay, I just flipped through the pages and stuck my finger in the middle and pointed randomly (my eyes looking away, over at my filing cabinet as a matter of fact) and then took the next several lines from wherever my finger happened to be pointing when I looked back again. Here is the result:

    How can I live without thee, how forego
    Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined,
    To live again in these wild woods forlorn?
    Should God create another Eve, and I
    Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
    Would never from my heart; no no, I feel
    The link of nature draw me: flesh of flesh,
    Bone of my bone, thou art, and from thy state
    Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.

    (Book 9, lines 908-916.)

    Wow. See?

    Now, that would be amazing enough in, say, a one-hundred line poem. This work is over 11,000 lines! It's truly a marvel.

    One wonders at Miltonís true motivation with this work. Itís on the one hand breathtaking in its scope, yet is, in its essence, about one chapter of the Bible, namely Genesis 3. Of course other parts of the Bible are detailed as we hear about Creation and are given summaries as well of the flood, the Tower of Babel, and an introduction to Christ and the idea of redemption.

    What was Milton trying to do with this? It strikes me that, for his time, this must have been a pretty gutsy thing to write. The man had some brass, no? These were sacred texts. Who was he to feel he could expand or elaborate on them? Was he trying to pass it off as fiction? Or was he trying to present a more detailed explanation of arguably the most important part of the Bible? And did he feel he was somehow within his rights to do so? Whatever his thinking, it seems clear to me that heís added immensely to the story. (I think, for example, that itís Miltonís Satan we think of when we think of Satan, not the Bibleís.) Milton has brought it all to life. A damn fine reason to write poetry, if you ask me.

    A truly amazing read.

  2. #2
    Registered User aeroport's Avatar
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    Why, he wrote to 'justify the ways of God to man', of course.
    Seriously, though, another PL fan - cool.

  3. #3
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    Milton said his aim to do "things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme" was for one thing to
    "Justify the ways of God to man." But in saying this, as a man, he was trying to justify the ways of God to himself. That appears to be why Milton, as narrator, is the most
    powerful and enigmatic force to be reckoned with in the poem. Certainly, Satan appears heroic especially in the first few books with his open and powerful speeches after his war with God's angels who are not always like Biblical angels. Byron said Milton's Satan
    "led a noble revolt against political tyranny." Milton's God is seen as austere, cruel and
    vengeful since he banishes Satan yet uses him to tempt Adam and Eve. If God is the creator of all including Satan than He is responsible for evil. And instead of having a very simple resolution where he saves all and even redeems the rebels he invents a complex salvation where no angel steps forward to be sacrificed but his son does "to regain that blissful seat ". Here we see God willing to bring suffering on his Son for his own selfish
    purposes: why not have His son come sooner so there is less suffering and why keep
    allowing Satan false hopes? Satan says "evil be thou my good" out of frustration and constant manipulation and unspeakable horror. Since Milton did not believe in The Trinity,
    and other traditions which the Church labelled him heretic for, his Son was a creation and
    therefore somewhat of a kin to Satan. But instead of treating Satan like the Prodigal Son
    because if God was the Father of all, he would want him to come back to him because as
    Shakespeare said love shouldn't alter. We see Adam's love for Eve so great that he is willing to die for her. But God's love is always conditional and although He is a merciful God to many, clearly Milton struggled with this idea. When Abdiel returns from Pandemonium God says "thou hast fought the better fight." Here Milton portrays God as petty gloating over a minor incident just as Satan did in his early upperhand in the War in Heaven. So, Milton portays God as not totally good and Satan as not totally evil. Thus, Blake's assertion that "Milton was a true poet and of the devil's party without knowing it" is true although he was of God's party as well. Therefore, we see a kind of dualism where Satan and God by almost every reader's interpretation are coming across alternately favourable to our human intellect and on the other hand distasteful, too. We
    see Milton struggling to figure out how to justify God's ways but he also has to justify Satan's ways, too. This anticipates the Age of Reason where reason ( God ) had to keep desire ( evil ) in check. But, to The Romantics controlling desire meant controlling imagination which is the true God so Shelley said" poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." And Milton, like the God who imagined The Bible and was therefore a poet, was thus seen as an archetype who had redeemed man by writing
    Paradise Lost. Milton ended up justifying the creative side of God as well as the creative side of Satan. He admitted both sides could be destructive so he recognized the constant battles without mirror the ones within and by accepting both sides as hero and villain he taught us that the only constant was love and acceptance of all things which is what his God never did but Milton's thesis was He should. So, like Blake, Milton shows us the higher good: learn through wisdom as we all should and Milton's God should not
    imprison freedom, especially of speech, but relax a bit and ease up on the repression and suffering He creates. This is shown in Milton's "Aeroeopagitica" where he offers the greatest polemic on freedom of speech. And to Milton if God has his say certainly we must listen to Satan so as Blake said "without contraries is no progression." What Milton
    taught us in Paradise Lost was that his epic was the true Bible since the original was not only inferior in language but it did not allow Satan freedom of speech. Milton's way of
    combatting tyranny was literally playing the devil's advocate. But his overall wisdom came from his constant learning and desire for knowledge from anyone which is why he read almost everything. He remains the greatest writer in history towering over even the mighty Shakespeare. -Greg B.

  4. #4
    Yes Paradise Lost is amazing, seriously, people should just read this and nothing else.

  5. #5
    I will be reading this soon and I can't wait. For my English class we read the the first section, about Satan's fall and I must say, it was the coolest and most poetic and emotional thing we ever read in the class. It blew me away. I went out bought it shortly after, it's coming up on my reading list, so I will soon be able to add my opinion to these threads.

  6. #6
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    That was an awesome mini essay, Greg B! Paradise Lost is certainly a monolithic epochal work of genius that is so severely profound that it does seem to tower over just about anything else of its kind; In terms of epics only the Aeneid and Divine Comedy can match it, and it's difficult to compare works of such disparate languages (especially without reading them in the original language), but I think it's easy to say it's certainly the best in English and crushes about 99.9% of all narrative poetry with its pinky. I tried to write a blank verse (mostly) narrative poem inspired by PL and, while I won't say it was an utter failure (though I'm now more than dissatisfied with it) I will say I gained a whole new appreciation for Milton. The fact that I struggled to get 144 lines out that could have narrative and aesthetic cohesion, powerful and rich language, nuance/subtlety, sustained motifs and themes, etc. while Milton did it with 100 times that many is just mind-boggling and incredibly humbling.

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg B View Post
    He remains the greatest writer in history towering over even the mighty Shakespeare. -Greg B.
    I've never been quite ready to go that far. The problem is that drama and epic poetry are two forms that are so different it's hard to directly compare. I will say that what Milton did in PL is unequaled (in all its facets) by any single Shakespeare work with perhaps the exceptions of Hamlet and Lear; and then, even those don't have PL's sheer volume. I find Milton the better poet, but Shakespeare the better dramatist; in terms of expressing what they wanted to in language they were incomparable and were (still are) light years beyond just about everyone else. Shakespeare will inevitably go down as the more influential/important of the two, though.
    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being." --Carl Gustav Jung

    "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Neil Gaiman; The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

    "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" --The Proclaimers

  7. #7
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    I agree with Greg B. Far superior to Shakespeare. Far more noble as well. Bravo!

  8. #8
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Though I wouldn't rate him over Shakespeare at his best, Milton comes damn close. Satan is, I think, one of the most compelling, multi-faceted and intense characters in the body of world literature. You are very right, Chester - you can just pick a random page and start reading, and very much enjoy yourself. His use of language is so rich and vibrant.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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