Tag Archives: Milton

Clive James on Milton: shooting down a few soaring similes?

article exploring Milton’s overt learning

This article, published online and linked above should be read by all students of Milton as an antidote to the Milton scholars who praise his erudition and flights of Classical allegory as evidence of the strength of his poetic invention.  Go on – challenge yourselves.  His recent book: Poetry Notebook 2006-2014 is a fascinating read and is a useful addition to your independent research.

Poems of a lifetime


Clive James on Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and lessons in the “shutting up” of poetry

Published: 14 May 2014
Library/Writer Pictures

When I was young, cartoons by James Thurber were so widely known that people would refer to them in conversation just by quoting the captions. I remember not quite understanding the reference in one caption: “I said the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces – but let it pass, let it pass”. I thought the line very funny at the time but I didn’t know that Thurber was quoting Swinburne’s “Atalanta in Calydon”. You don’t need to get the reference to get the joke; but the joke eventually got me to Swinburne, who would gradually turn out to be the most accomplished poet that I couldn’t stand. Spenser, in The Faerie Queene, would occasionally throw in an alliterative line for effect (“Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad”) but Swinburne wanted the whole poem to be that way: a meal of popcorn. Sometimes, in his blizzard of alliteration, he failed to notice that he had written an identity rhyme instead of a rhyme:

“And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten . . .”

Perhaps he noticed but thought we wouldn’t, intoxicated as we were bound to be by his sonic hurtle. But for a poet to be all sound is nearly as bad as for a painter to be all paint. After several attempts over the years to detect any signs of an underlying strength, I still find that a Swinburne poem affects me like a painting by John Bratby: there is so much impasto that the only tension lies in your wondering whether it will slide off the picture and fall on the floor. I have to give up on Swinburne; there is no time to go on quarrelling; and anyway there are problematic poets with whom one can quarrel to more purpose.

Look into Chapman’s Homer and you can see what alliteration once did, long before Swinburne arrived to overdo it. Agamemnon kits himself out before going into battle:

“Then took he up his weighty shield, that round
about him castDefensive shadows; ten bright zones of
gold-affecting brass
Were driven about it, and of tin, as full of gloss
as glass,
Swelled twenty bosses out of it . . .”

While the “defensive shadows” are good, “as full of gloss as glass” is beyond good: it’s brilliant. Just don’t let Swinburne hear about it. But you can’t stop poets finding inspiration in the heritage, and no doubt to be as learned as possible is not just a duty, but a good thing; and yet you can’t help wishing that some of the learned poets since Shakespeare had been blessed with the knack of forgetting what they had read.

For much of his life, Milton needed his memory because he couldn’t see. When he considered how his light was spent, he didn’t complain about being too often driven back into his remembered books. Perhaps he didn’t see the problem. But my quarrel with Paradise Lost – man against mountain! – begins with how Milton’s beaver-dams of learning turn streams of invention into stagnant ponds. One of the several Miltonians among my friends kindly goes on telling me that the displays of learning were part of the invention. Milton obviously believed that to be true. But here I am, once more submitting myself to Paradise Lost in the hope of being caught up; and once more realizing that the famous clash between T. S. Eliot and F. R. Leavis on the subject of Milton (Leavis did most of the clashing) was not a quarrel about nothing. It was really about a monumental example of poetic genius defeating itself; because the question of the possible insufficiency of his single most important work would never have arisen if it did not seem to pride itself on undoing things that Milton well knew how to do. A consummate lyricist faced with his biggest opportunity, he strained every muscle to be bad. Let one illustration serve, from Book IX. Eve has just spoken, and now she is described:

“Thus saying, from her Husbands hand her hand
Soft she withdrew, and, like a Wood-Nymph light,
Oread or Dryad, or of Delia’s Traine,
Betook her to the groves, but Delia’s self
In gait surpassed and Goddess-like deport,
Though not as shee with Bow and Quiver armed,
But with such Gardning Tools as Art, yet rude,
Guiltless of fire had formed, or Angels brought.
To Pales, or Pomona, thus adorned,
Likest she seemed – Pomona when she fled
Vertumnus – or to Ceres in her prime,
Yet virgin of Proserpina from Jove . . .”

Such passages, and there are scores of them, are impoverished by their riches: erudition distorts the picture, whose effect divides into the poetic and the encyclopedic. This element of Miltonics can be called uniquely his only because he did the most of it: in fact, it’s a hardy perennial. In the previous century, Spenser had been often at it, as when he loaded a library on top of his two swans in “Prothalamion”:

“Two fairer birds I yet did never see:
The snow which doth the top of Pindus strew,
Did never whiter shew,
Nor Jove himself when he a Swan would be
For love of Leda . . .”

Even those among his readers who knew nothing about Greece might possibly have known that Pindus was its principal mountain range, and everybody knew about shape-changing Jove and his attentions to Leda. Similarly, readers of Marvell’s “Bermudas” probably knew that Ormus – still in business at the time, although soon to decline and vanish – was a kingdom notable for wealth:

“He hangs in shades the Orange bright
Like golden Lamps in a green Night.
And does in the Pomegranates close,
Jewels more bright than Ormus show’s.”

But here we see where the trouble with this aspect of Miltonics really starts: when an encyclopedic reference is outclassed by its poetic surroundings, like a fake jewel in a fine setting. The line about the lamps in the green night is one of Marvell’s best things, and poor old Ormus pales beside it. (Milton, too, dragged Ormus in, and to even less effect.) One hesitates to rhapsodize about the pure spring of inspiration, but there is such a thing as clogging the pipes.

The awful thing about the apparent success of Milton’s unyielding stretches of leaden erudition was that the plumbing of English poetry was affected far into the future. Without Milton’s example, would Matthew Arnold have taken such pains to burden his “Philomela” with this lumbering invocation of a naiad and her habitat?

“Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale?
Listen, Eugenia . . .”

But surely Eugenia has stopped listening, and is checking the menu for room service. At least we can say, however, that Arnold, by perpetrating such a blunder, helped to define what makes “Dover Beach” so wonderful: apart from Sophocles, nobody from classical times makes an appearance, and even his bit is part of the argument, not just a classical adjunct parked on top of the edifice like a misplaced metope. Milton, of course, schooled himself well in the trick of pulling a learned reference into the narrative texture, but all too often, no matter how smoothly the job is done, the most you can say of it is that it sounds good.

A poet who can’t make the language sing doesn’t start

But sounding good can’t even be called a requirement. It’s a description. A poet who can’t make the language sing doesn’t start. Hence the shortage of real poems among the global planktonic field of duds. In the countries of the Anglosphere, the poet’s first relationship is with the English language even when the poet is indigenous. There is therefore no mystery, although there is some sadness, about the shortage of Australian Aboriginal poets. Until the corrective opinion of such inspired Aboriginal leaders as Noel Pearson prevails, it will go on being true that too few people of Aboriginal origin are masters of the country’s principal language. Published in 2009, the Macquarie PEN anthology attempted to compensate for this imbalance artificially by including anything in English from an Aboriginal writer that might conceivably be construed as a poem, even if it was a political manifesto. It wasn’t the first attempt in Australian literary history to give Aboriginal culture a boost into the mainstream. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Jindyworobak movement did the same, with whitefella poets rendering themselves unreadable by using as many of the blackfella’s totemic terms as possible. New Zealand might have been in the same position with regard to the Maoris, had it not been for the advent of Hone Tuwhare (1922–2008), in whose poem “To a Maori Figure Cast in Bronze Outside the Chief Post Office, Auckland” the bronze figure speaks thus:

“I hate being stuck up here, glaciated, hard all
and with my guts removed: my old lady is not
going to like it . . . ”

After twenty-five lines of brilliantly articulated bitching, the statue signs off: “Somebody give me a drink; I can’t stand it”. Tuwhare was himself a Maori, so the argument was over. Finally it is the vitality of language that decides everything, and this hard fact becomes adamantine as one’s own vitality ebbs.

Finally it is the vitality of language that decides everything

That’s not all: as time runs out, the mind is weighed down with a guilty mountain of the critical duties that won’t be attended to. There is barely time to read Elizabeth Bishop’s poems again and pay them a less stinted praise. When I first wrote about her, thirty years ago, I tried to be clever. It was a failure of judgement: she was the clever one. Will I get myself off the hook just by saying that I ended up with almost as many lines by Bishop in my head as by Robert Lowell? What one feels bound to acknowledge fully is her artistic stature. Of her moral stature there can be no question. The big book of her letters, One Art(1994), is a mind-expanding picture of a difficult yet dedicated life, and a smaller book of letters, Words in Air (2008), by collecting her correspondence with Lowell, defines the ethics of a historic moment: a moment when poetry, queen of the humanities, took a step towards the opportunistic privileges of totalitarianism. Lowell wanted her endorsement for his bizarre temerity in stealing his wife Elizabeth Hardwick’s letters to use unchanged in his poetry. Bishop refused to approve; and surely she was right. Students in the future who are set the task of writing an essay about the limits of art could start right there, at the moment when one great poet told another to quit fooling himself.

The business of poetry is now much more equally distributed between the sexes than it was even in the period after the Second World War, when women seemed to be taking up poetry as if it were a new kind of swing shift, the equivalent of putting the wiring into silver bombers. There had always been women poets, from Sappho onwards, and a few, such as Juana Inés de la Cruz, defined their place and time; but in English poetry, a small eighteenth-century triumph like Anne, Countess of Winchelsea’s poem “The Soldier’s Death” did little to remind the literary men of the immediate future that there could be such a thing as a poet in skirts. They might remember the poem, but they didn’t remember her. True equality really began in the nineteenth century: Christina Rossetti, for example, wrote poems of an accomplishment that no sensitive male critic could ignore, no matter how prejudiced he was. (There were insensitive male critics who ignored it, and patronized her as a cot-case: but the tin-eared reviewer is an eternal type.) Elizabeth Barrett Browning was spoken of in the same breath as her husband. He might have been the greater, but nobody except devout misogynists doubted that she was in the same game.

In the twentieth century, Marianne Moore achieved the same sort of unarguable status: she was acknowledged to be weighty even by those who thought she was fey. Back in the late 1950s, I would listen to an all-poetry LP that included Moore reciting “Distrust of Merits” and come away convinced that she had the strength to make seriousness sound the way it should. When she said “The world’s an orphans’ home” I thought hers was the woman’s voice that took the measure of the war in which the men had just been fighting to the death. Leaving aside Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore would have been enough on her own to make women’s poetry seem like an American thing. She was a Special Forces operative in a black tricorne hat. But there was also Edna St Vincent Millay, whose sonnets, despite their wilfully traditionalist structure and diction, looked more and more original to me as time went on, to the point where, in my mind, I was casting the movie about her affair with Edmund Wilson. Edna and Edmund could easily have become as famous as Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, if not for one vital factor: Plath was the formative woman poet for whole generations throughout the English-speaking world, whereas Millay has never really caught on. But then, hardly anyone has ever caught on like Plath. In the whole of literature’s long history, Plath must be the supreme example of a poet breaking through to masses of people who know nothing about poetry at all. Fans of Byron had read verse before.

But if we look only for a big impact, we are treating women’s poetry as a commodity. The important thing is that women’s poetry has joined men’s poetry in the harsh realm of art, where nothing except quality can survive the perpetual bush fire of time. Donne, in one of his regrettably few statements about how “Metricall compositions” are made, referred to the putting together of a poem as “the shutting up”. An unfortunate term, and we could use a better one; because there can’t be much doubt that the shaping of a poem is also a pressure, in which the binding energy of the poem brings everything inside its perimeter to incandescence. If that were not the prize, then the great women poets of our time would not have worked so hard to join the men.

I still make plans to live forever: there are too many critical questions still to be raised. Most of them can never be settled, which is the best reason for raising them. Who needs a smooth technique after hearing Hopkins’s praise “All things counter, original, spare, strange”? Well, everyone does, because what Hopkins does with the language depends on the mastery of mastery, and first you must have the mastery. And how can we write as innocently now as Shakespeare did when he gave Mercutio the speech about Queen Mab, or as Herrick did when he wrote “Oberon’s Feast”, or even as Pope did, for all his show of craft, when he summoned the denizens of the air to attend Belinda in Canto II of The Rape of the Lock? Well, we certainly can’t do it through ignorance, so there goes the idea of starting from nowhere. Better to think back on all the poems you have ever loved, and to realize what they have in common: the life you soon must lose.

Clive James’s most recent collection of poems is Nefertiti in the Flak Tower, which was published in 2012. His Opal Sunset: Selected poems 1958–2009 and a collection of his essays, The Revolt of the Pendulum, both appeared in 2009, while The Blaze of Obscurity, the fifth volume of hisUnreliable Memoirs, appeared in 2010.

We hope you enjoyed this free piece; the TLS is available every Thursday on the TLS app. In this week’s issue, you can also read about George Eliot the journalist, Tudor voyages of trade and discovery, a spy in the Soviet archives, the Nazis’ war on modern art, and much more.

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Frailty, thy name is … Eve? A passage in search of a discussion for Year 13.

It seems a little unfair to equate Eve with Gertrude who is so strongly told off and used as a synecdoche for the entire female gender by Hamlet in the quotation bastardised above, yet I want to explore the presentation of Eve in the first 400 or so lines of Paradise Lost IX, a passage in which Milton is foreshadowing the fall, and more importantly, beginning to implicate Eve as the begetter of all that follows. To a heavily misogynistic readership and in a firmly patriarchal society such as his, it is convenient to place the blame for the Fall onto woman in general. We need to see whether Milton leaves open room for doubt in his telling of the story.

LL: 205 – 250:
After the calm glories of dawn, and still with the memory of Satan travelling to Earth and hiding himself in the snake fresh in our minds, Milton allows the couple to emerge onto the “stage” of his writing and begin their dialogue. (In an exam which requires comparison with drama, I find it useful to consider sections of PL as a drama – dialogue and often narratorial comment which tae the place of stage directions.). Eve speaks first with little fuss: “ Adam, well may we labour…”. At this stage there is no great exordium to introduce the argument in debate, but rather a plain request to share out labour. Furthermore, the rationale seems quite worthy: “…which intermits/ Our day’s work brought to little, though begun / Early…”. Eve seems to be suggesting a simple solution to a problem – that of the work not being completed and even seems to suggest that “supper comes unearned”, thus equating the right to relax with the achievement of hard work.
It is interesting though to look at the language which she uses in this speech. The garden is described as becoming “luxurious”, “wanton” or “wild”. IN short, her choice of lexis is suggestive of a sensuous or libidinous world. That this language is natural to her his further suggested by the flower imagery used: although Adam will engage with manly ideas such as providing strength and security in his work with the woodbine and the ivy, Eve will work in a “spring of roses intermixed, with myrtle”. Although Myrtle was generally considered to represent fidelity, roses are of a different plane, suggesting not only beauty of softness, but one which is shortlived and inclined to the decadent.

Adam treats Eve well in his response – his exordium suggesting a willingness to debate the point, though possibly also a sense that as the male, he does not expect to lose the debate. His hyperbolic opening: “Sole Eve, associate sole, to me beyond / Compare…” with its homophonic punning and deliberate playing on Eve’s willingness to be flattered seems rather extreme after the plainness of Eve’s opening. Adam moves into his argument only after a rather chauvinistic comment about how a woman should behave: “nothing lovelier can be found / In woman, than to study household good, / And good works in her husband to promote”. In short: thanks, but no thanks. He further suggests that since mankind has reason, and the ability to feel emotions comes from this source, then God intends them to be more than a mere working pair ( “not ot irksome toil…”) but a pair to share love. Before he moves to his second argument, however, he seems to backtrack on himself. Here it is Adam who seems ot be falling over himself not to seem too didactic or patriarchal. Suggesting possibly that he is aware that Eve does not share his attention span for conversation of this type, he offers the possibility of a “short absence” and is able to see the potential benefit of short separation on the relationship.

It is from here that he picks up his argument which foreshadows the rest of the book. Satan is near and will try to tempt them. He is clear that i) Satan wishes to come upon them individually and ii) Satan is jealous of their relationship and will seek to split them up and tempt them. He concludes by repeating the idea that it is safer and “seemliest” for a wife to remain beside her protector.

LL 270 – 290: Milton’s stage directions are clear: Eve, in her “virgin majesty” is offended by Adam’s heavy handed attempt to control the situation. Milton suggests that she replies with “austere composure”. I like this. She knows what she is doing here, and austerity does not immediately suggest someone relying on their femininity to win a point. Eve is intelligent and perfectly able to mix it in debate with Adam. In a short speech she responds first in a voice of injured pride – “I expected not to hear” – that Adam is not telling her anything she has not heard before and she goes on to point out that she and Adam need not fear any physical attack (being immortal) and so it is only Satan’s “fraud” which Adam is fearing. She is insulted, I think, that Adam clearly believes that her “firm faith and love / Can by his fraud be shaken or seduced”. Once again, Milton’s choice of language is powerful – alliterative fs abound, but Eve once again suggests a sensual weakness by her choice of the verb “seduced” which allows the physical sexuality of the moment to be recognized.

LL291 -342: In this sequence, Adam’s comparative weakness is clear. Whether he is weak in the face of Eve’s beauty or her intellect is open to discussion. There is an absence of overtly flirty or flattering speech from Eve, and she seems to take some control of the scene for this point. Adam, in “healing words” (again the stage direction points the reader towards a clear understanding of the characters) offers more argument, though the material is weak: first he suggests that he is worried that Eve will be discredited by the attempt alone, and then that Satan is wish to attack him, being the stronger, since greater kudos will come to Satan as a result. He does suggest, however, that he gain strength from Eve’s presence and that he shall be driven to his “utmost vigour” by “you looking on”. He goes on to suggest that his vigour will help typo unite them.

In this passage, Adam is described both as “domestic” and as possessing “matrimonial love”. Eve is not impressed and Milton seems to be pushing us to see her as the home breaker here. She is offended still by the suggestion that she might be seduced and replies in accents “sweet” – presumably an ironic comment due to an enforced politeness. Certainly her response is swift in its attack on Adam’s ideas – she is in control of this debate and raises the essential question: “How are we happy, still in fear of harm?”. This, together with “What is faith, love, virtue unassayed / Alone, without exterior help sustained?” show a clear train of thought or reason here – there is no real life for the pair if they are in constant fear. There is also a hint at the pride to come in her idea that he and she will gain “double honour” by overcoming Satan. She sees no stigma from his attack and is focused solely on the glory of overcoming him. She challenges Adam to rethink his ideas concerning God’s gift of Eden – “frail is our happiness” she cries and forces Adam to respond “fervently”. It is as though he finally realizes that he will not win this argument based on logic and has to engage with his emotional response to God.

LL343 – 400: It is hard to see “Oh Woman” as anything other than a put-down. Certainly it is neither hyperbolic in grandeur nor expressive of love. It suggests that it is time for the Man to educate the Woman about God and his ways. Adam tries to explain Free Will and Reason, suggesting that God wants mankind to use reason but also to “beware…lest by some fair appearing Good surprised / she dictate false…” He offers a crumb of comfort by suggesting that he is not mistrusting her, but engaging in the sort of mutual support that will allow them to use Reason, yet not be deceived. His speech becomes rich with imperatives and he seems to be moving into the ascendancy until in Line 370 he offers another sharp contradiction: “Go, for the stay, not free, absents thee more”. It is hard to work out what Adam is doing here. The two obvious possibilities are i) that he is allowing Eve to use her Reason and will not seek to impose his will upon her, or that ii) he is actively pushing her away. I see no reason for ii. The effect tof the passage is that the decision to leave and therefore the beginning of the sequence leading to the fall either has to be seen as Eve’s choice following the options, or as Adam’s failure in that he pushes Eve away.

The next lines show Eve leaving. She is clear that she has heeded Adam’s most recent warning and clearly understands the risks, even though she does not believe that Satan will attack her. Here she seems to be offering Adam a sop. She has bested him in debate, but has no wish to seem overproud as she leaves. And she is the instigator of the farewell – “from her husband’s hand her hand / Soft she withdrew” and it is she who breaks the clear symbol of marital unity before leaving Adam he “pursued” her with “ardent eye”. She seems to be much the more reasoned of the two. Even at this stage Adam seems to be emotionally affected in a way we do not see in Eve. Far from being weak and driven by emotion, the Woman here is in full control of herself. Milton undercuts this by his choice of Simile and Classical allusion. Each of the nymphs mentioned will end up being seduced. We can understand that despite her victory in the debate, she will not return for “noontide repast, or afternoon’s repose”.

Her midmorning snack will put an end to this calm repose forever.


Filed under AQA LitB 4, Milton, OCR A level, OCR English Literature

Paradise Lost ix: literary contexts and thinking points.

A powerpoint to engage with some of the literary contexts of the poem and to encourage class discussion and thought. I have also included a couple of web links, 1 to the York Morality play text dealing with the fall of man, and the other a quick definition page of Epic poetry. Both are mentioned in the powerpoint.

paradise contexts

THE FALL OF MAN York Cowpers Play


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Paradise Lost ix, ll 679 ff Satan’s seduction

A short powerpoint to breakdown Satan’s seduction into manageable and useful sections. For use with the synopsis and sound files already blogged.

satan’s seduction ppt

Also, an OCR teaching pack which might be useful:


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PARADISE LOST book ix. A synopsis.

Section 1 1-99

The book opens with an invocation to Milton’s muse in the style of all great epics from Homer to Dante. He begs for help as he needs to turn his tale to tragedy and away from the domestic bliss which has dominated the central books of Paradise Lost. The language is powerful and pits “foul distrust and breach disloyal” against “Anger and just rebuke”. The latter will be be seen in Book 10. Book 9 deals with the Fall of Man.

Milton’s form here deliberately recalls the writings of Homer and Virgil and focuses on Achilles – the wrathful and short-lived hero of the Iliad, and Turnus, the honourable and equally short-lived antagonist of Book XII of the Aeneid. He claims a lack of energy for writing of wars and all the accoutrements of battle and asks for help with what is a veery English epic – one that needs its writer to be protected from cold climate or damp weather.

He introduces the narrative by turning the setting of the tale to nightfall and allowing Satan to dominate in his natural habitat. Satan is described as ”fearless” though his actions and further description might give lie to this. He is returning “bent on man’s destruction” and has no care for his own safety, yet he is cautious of day and obviously fears the angelic guard placed around Eden. Milton describes the 7 days spent chasing the night around the Earth before his return in a manner which recalls the 7 day creation phase of God’s earth. He searches the whole earth before alighting on a specific geographical location for Eden, possibly giving Milton a chance to show off his knowledge of the known globe in a time of great expansion of such knowledge. He decides to hide and chooses the serpent as a fitting vessel for this purpose. It is suggested that the serpent is already sufficiently “wily” that the presence of Satan will make little alteration to its outward appearance.

Section 2 100-191

The focus here might be on the character of Satan based on his words and actions. As the passage opens he is seeking to justify his action and focuses first on the Earth. He is convincing himself, and the reader, that he is in no way settling for second b best. T h e opening lines, complex syntax possibly suggesting the somewhat tortuous logic, make his case: as the second t o be created, after heaven, earth must b e an improvement. He will use a similar argument when flattering Eve. He sees earth as mimicking God, being at the centre of many other heavens all bearing light to benefit the Earth. To this end, he extrapolates, is placed Man at the centre of all, bearing Reason in addition to the other qualities mentioned. At this stage he seems content to recognise the beauties of Earth, but from.l 114 a new side emerges as he shows his bitterness and jealousy for all that is Good. In short, this is the Satan who acts as a precursor of ma.y Gothic villains, from Heathcliffe to The Creature. His jealousy will.lead to hatred and thence to destruction of all that is Good. As he says: “all good to me becomes / Bane. The poison is stressed by the enjambement and placed as a line opener. He is clear that he does not choose to.live on Earth, rather to make “others such as I” and is fully aware of the possible consequences. Satan speaks in long and sinuous sentences and Milton uses alliteration from time to time to add “voice” and to highlight the pleasure which he gets from his planning. Look at ll131_134 and note the repetitive W forms which lead the ready easily to the sudden shift to guttural attack as he perceives his coming Glory. In this passage Satan’s arrogance begins to show. His overweening ambition is to destroy God’s creation quickly and then to ruin his creation- “A creature formed of Earth” and who has been given “our spoils”. As his passion rises, seen in the increase of alliteration and assonance, he breaks off to ejaculate in passion “O indignity” as heperceives angels subservient to mankind. It is as though his wounded pride and ambition meet at this point to justify his action.

This moment introduces his fears. Despite his bravado he dreads the vigilance of the angels and Milton can arrange a metaphor for his evil in his attempts to evade detection. The imagery is of obscuring mist and serpent-like twists a nd turns. Evil never moves clearly or in straight lines! His disgust at needing to mid with the “bestial slime” is evident, as he sinks to slowest level yet. His rhetorical question on line 168/9 stands out and challenges the reader, especially given the historical context of the composition. He ends by a clear statement that he is aware of the propensity of revenge to harm the revenge, but he cares not: “spite then with spite is best repaid” is as clear a credo as any he has offered.
Milton ends the section with a description of his tortuous journey- twists and darkness being the key elements before Satan settles within the serpent to await dawn. His dawn- the dawn of destruction.

The character has all the arrogance of the early books here, but little of the winning charm. He is consumed with envy and hatred of the good which now drives him. His heuristic desire to topple God is evident, but it is driven by such obvious malignity that it does not seem heroic. However, rather as was the case with villains such as Iago, it is hard not to admire the honesty sheer chutzpah of this most villainous of villains. His language excites and his diction thrills.

Section 3 ll193-384

After the darkness and secrecy of the preceding section, Eden awakes in radiant beauty and calm. The language is filled with religious imagery of altars and thanksgiving before the “human pair” e.merge and in a synaesthetic merging of sound and smell,offer their thanks for the new day. Milton introduces their dialogue with subtlety and humour, running on the “growing work”, and their is no sense of what lies ahead.

The first dialogue displays the characters of Adam and Eve. He seems solid and unimaginative, though kind at heart, but she is harder to read and, as the key player in what is to follow, much more interesting to look at more closely. Eve opens the drama and Milton makes her straightforward and sensible. This is important as whatever faults she is later found to have, she should not mimic Satan’s mode of address. She greets Adam as an equal and states her request- a plea for limited independence. Even here though, Milton places words into her mouth which smack of the temptation to come: “wanton”, luxurious” and “wild” all carry connotations of female sexual licence. She also speaks with language derived from flower-lore: moodiness denote faithful marriage, as does ivy, but she will work with rises, symbols of transient passion. All is foreshadowed in this first speech, but there is a sense that Eve is oblivious of all she suggests.

After Adam has replied and reinforced both God’s command and the lowly place of woman in society, he continues by addressing Reason, which will become one of Satan’s prime images and also his fear for Eve. He is not unaware of the threat of Satan. He urges care and recognises Satan’s envy of their bliss as a prime threat. He concludes by stressing the balance of their relationship and stating that man should protect woman or “with her the worst endure(s)”.

The result is the start of the development of independent Eve. Her next speech is short and passionate, opening with the hyperbole of “offspring of heaven and earth, and all earth’s Lord.” She has Bern told to keep her place and it seems to rankle her spirit. She too heard the warning and is offended that Adam should believe that she might be tempted. Although the dramatic irony of what follows is clear to all, her passion wins the sympathy of the reader as she vents her feelings of dismay. Milton allows Adam to reply with “healing words”, and in doing so brings this marital squabble to life, whilst establishing Adam as something of an appeaser, rather than a man of action. His address to her as “daughter of God and Man..” is a clear attempt to apologise whilst also , incidentally, emphasising her position as the only female on Earth and the mother of mankind. His I ritual excuse is weak: it is not that she would be tempted, but rather, that the temptation itself, even when resisted, would in some way bring dishonest onto her. Of more weight us his suggestion that they are stronger together and better able to resist what he recognises is a powerful and subtle enemy. He is once again shown as “domestic” and strongly supportive of matrimony, and a little mortified, though no less determined, Eve continues her assault.

Her argument gathers strength from Adam’s fears: what type of freedom will they ever have if they are unable to separate? How can they ever be happy if they are so afraid of harm? She is confident of withstanding Satan and feels that the pair will win honour by withstanding him. This is the first real evidence of an Eve who is partly driven by ambition, as we will see later in the book. Her final point suggests that God would not have created beings who are only safe in pairs. She seems quick witted in her responses to Adam and also seems able to frame her philosophy with accuracy and passion.

At this point Adam explains the concept of freewill and thus the danger that lurks within all men. God has left humans with free will to choose their paths through life. If one is deceived, then free will allows for humans to err and therefore to fall. Free will is dictated by Reason, and it is this that is fallible- reason can be tricked. He warns her against seeking temptation and explains that Satan can deceive all, not just her. However, just as he seems to be having the last word on the matter, he relents. He tells her to “go”- an abrupt imperative- and feels that if she stays under compulsion she is “absent more”. This argument seems once again domestic, as though Adam is responding in a rather touchy feely manner, rather than as the Lord of Earth.

Eve leaves, aware of the warning, but confident that Satan will not seek her trial. After all, she reasons, she is the weaker and he has little to gain from that!

Section 4 ll385-493

The section opens with a deeply touching description of the parting of the couple. Their deep love is clear, particularly that of Adam for Eve as they leave. The irony of Eve’s promise to return by noon is clear. The opening g line repeats with alliterative h patterns the image of the two letting slip their hands:” from her husband’s hand her hand / soft she withdrew”. The repetition focuses on the joined hands and the beautifully placed adverb emphasises the love that is shared. Adam’s behaviour is well known to anyone who has ever seen a loved one off on journey- he wishes Eve well, “desiring more her stay”. Simple, beautiful and powerful. In lines 385ff Milton uses the first of many similes which mark out this section of the narrative. In this first he equates Eve with a sequence of Classical nymphs and dryads, each seduced, and stresses their innocence at the time of their fall.

Before describing Satan’s approach, Milton interrupts his own narrative to address Eve directly in “apostrophe”. The rhetoric is heightened here as he describes the “event perverse” without making his syntax clear: whether he refers to the separation or the planned return or the seduction is not clear. Somehow, he seems to use the phrase to encapsulate all three. She is deceived, failing and hapless. The last word probably meaning “luckless” . It seems clear that the narrative has reached her tragic moment.

Satan approaches within the serpent, bent on destruction and secrecy. He has indeed sought her on her own and now finds her working. The flower-lore shows us that she is working with feminine fidelity mind, but is bereft of male support- thus her work is irredeemably weakened. Notice that he wishes his”hap” might find the “hapless” Eve. She is surrounded with symbols of transient love and luxurious colour- this will only end in one way… a storm is coming.

As Satan approaches, Milton uses a 20 line epic simile comparing his sensations to those of someone experiencing fresh air after incarceration, but more importantly, to one who spies a virginal countryside passing and who determines to exercise his droite du seigneur over her. His excitement at seeing Eve, behind to undo him. She is described in purest terms- heavenly, angelic- and ironically her “rapine sweet” serves to dilute his evil. So.pure is she that she steals away his malice and leaves him “stupidly good”. For a moment. He recalls his purpose and plans his approach “gratulating”. He is utterly err lyon self obsessed and his inward purpose is clear.
When he speaks, his language is serpentine and tangled. He comments again that he is driven by a pleasure found in destruction and then that he fears Adam both for his intellect and his physical strength and immortality. He is weakened and resents it. That Adam is perceived as being intellectual might surprise, based on what we have read. Eve seems much quicker witted, but she is so ambitious and eager for change. This will be her undoing. Her willingness to undermine the status quo has been noted already. Milton is happy to let the reader decide the degree of culpability she should carry.

Section 5 ll494-631

This section begins with the treatment of Satan’s progress toward Eve. It has already been noted that he travelled through a phallic dorset in the previous section before spotting Eve, now his movement and appearance are closely described. The descriptors used to describe his erect figure are telling: “tower, burnished, verdant gold, spires, crested aloft, turret crest, sleek, enamelled…” no wonder Eve falls for his charms! He has stated that he fears Adam based on Adam’s overt masculinity, but here is his response- strong, glorious and utterly tempting. A brief simile of Classical snakes accompanies him and we notice that reference is also made to his folds rising like a “surging maze” and once again see reference to the fact that evil will never be clearly seen. He even travels “obliquely” and ‘side-long”. Another short simile likens him to a boat being skilfully sailed and there is further reference to temptation in the use of “wanton” to describe his body, also called a “wreath” which presumably foreshadows death. The final clue to his modus operandi comes in the description of him “fining” and “licking the ground”. Satan knows that the key to Eve’s heart is to flatter her sense of ambition and thwarted equality.

HIs “glozing” is based on this. He welcomes her with high adoration, calling her “sovereign mistress” and going on to suggest that she is the “fairest resemblance” of God, the maker, and that she should be widely recognised and worshipped. However, trapped in Eden, this will never happen. She should be a “goddess among Gods”. The fact that she is not, is clearly implied to be deeply unfair.

Eve’s brief response is focused not so much on the message as the messenger. She is intrigued and demands explanation which Satan is only to happy to give. He states that though he once was like all other animals, thinking only of food and sex – Milton places “or sex” on a new line following enjambement to intensify the potential of the phrase and its implications to shock, he chanced upon a tree bearing fragrant apples. The sense are invoked here to help to increase the vividness of the vision. Satan describes himself winding about the trunk in a parody of the flower-lore from earlier in the passage – this is no woodbine suggesting female fidelity! Once sated (another sexual term) he describes a growing sense of Reason and the emergence of a voice before he started to think about the world around him. His story here suggests a chance encounter with Eve whom he flatters once again by rating her as having a “divine semblance”. His language in this passage has lost its sinuous complexity. His message needs to be given with clarity if Eve is to understand it. The syntax is straightforward and the vocabulary direct, suited to his “gentle dumb expression”. Although Milton refers to him regularly as “sly” or “guileful”, Eve is utterly absorbed by his tale.

She asks where the tree is, and Satan, flattering still (Empress) tells her to follow him beyond a bed of myrtles, symbolising faithful marriage. The message is clear, she is about to transgress. In a half-line designed to emphasise the sheer gravity of the moment, Eve gives herself in Satan’s power “Lead then”. She has been flattered and has had her latent curiosity entranced.

Section 6 ll631-838

Satan leads the way and so complete is his trickery that he makes the “intricate seem straight” before being described as swamp gas, leading travellers from the true path at night. The images relating to darkness, obfuscation and sin are clear to read. Milton describes Eve here as “our credulous mother”, using the first person to increase the link between the reader and Eve and also showing certain disdain – “credulous” is not a kind word. There is a suggestion of being too easily won over here. He also enjoys a pun on “root of all our woe” referring to the tree itself and the fall which is about to occur. When Eve gives a brief refusal, even making a pun on “fruitless” as she sees the tree, Satan is ready. Seizing upon Eve’s defence to Reason, he outlogics her in this passage. He calls upon all the training of the orators of old and pretends to be moved by the perceived injustice of the prohibition. He pulls himself up to his full height (of phallic significance here) and blasts Eve with the power of his sophistry.

There are six sections to his argument:

1. 684-92: eating the fruit will not kill
2. 692-702: God will be impressed by your courage and is too just to kill you
3. 703-9: the fruit has been forbidden to prevent mankind from becoming Gods
4. 710-17: the fruit will work in proportion to the powers already present in the eater
5. 718-25: the tree is more powerful than God
6. 725-30: It can not be an offence to eat the fruit.

Satan confuses Eve’s reason with all the rhetorical flourishes he can muster. This speech will be examined more closely later, but I want to draw attention to a range of elements. He uses direct lies and logical fallacies (702) to win over Eve, whilst also diminishing her belief in God as omnipotent. Milton chooses to use references to gods rather than to God throughout the speech as Satan plays down the importance of the Deity. Indeed, by establishing God as envious of mankind and worried of the threat to his position should the fruit be eaten, he further feeds Eve’s ambition and takes the reader back into the world of Books 1&2 and to the scenes explaining the fall from Heaven and the subsequent rallying of the lesser devils. As he finishes Milton notes that his words “replete with guile” find “too easy” entry to Eve’s heart. She is hooked and Milton seems to be putting some blame onto Eve. She has been won very easily. Note that in Lines 483ff Milton has made Satan fear Adam’s intellectual ability. Eve, for all her delightful passion and ability to think quickly when faced by as open a soul as Adam has proven no match for the evil and the deceiving.

On L 354 Adam has warned against “Evil seeming Good” and now his concerns are proved justified. Eve is led by her “appetite”, the word carrying sexual overtones and being often used in a derogatory manner against women, and is tempted by the tree itself which “solicited her longing eye” just as a suitor might entrap an unwary girl. eve begins by addressing the tree itself, but moves swiftly on to an internal debate about God’s motives and her position as she seeks to justify her forthcoming transgression. She clearly believes Satan’s story about the gaining of a voice, and adds a point of her own:

1. God calls the tree the Tree of Knowledge
2. Knowledge of Good AND Evil is a good thing (the one helps to recognise the other)
3. Therefore the prohibition is senseless and caries no weight since God is forbidding the humans to be good and wise

Furthermore, she deduces that since the snake has not dies by eating, then the punishment of death must apply solely to mortals. She holds the snake up as an ironic paragon of virtue, wisdom and friendliness to mankind and is driven by her lust for “wisdom” to ignore the threat of death. Milton shows the precise moment of the fall by the single iambic units at the end of line 781 “she plucked, she ate:”
As she does so Earth is convulsed in pain, akin to birthing pains as she prepares to allow death to enter the world. Milton gives power to the moment into the half line before a caesura: “that all was lost” After the pause allowed by the full-stop, the snake slinks away, his job complete and leaves Eve to eat. She is clearly described as eating in sexual terms – “Greedily she engorged without restraint”, indeed she seems drunk on her excess as she addresses the tree for a second time.

She addresses the tree in worship and promises to serve it above all others. God is forgotten in this paean to knowledge, indeed he appears as “the forbidder” as Eve’s powers of self deception lead her to ever greater hyperbole. She is clear that Experience shall be her guide and that the pair have lost out by not being prepared to follow this path. He rethought then turn to Adam in a passage crucial for those considering Eve’s character as presented by Milton. She has to consider what, if anything, to share with her husband. She sees benefit in keeping silent and raising herself, and all womankind to a position not just of equality but even occasional superiority over men. Her question “for inferior who is free?” seems to hit at the social question prevalent in 17/18thC England as well as her predicament. She also shows a jealousy that should she die as a result of eating, she would lose Adam to living his life out with “another Eve”. This seems to be her driving motive, although she does turn it round to suggest that she could face death only if Adam were with her. She give obeisance to the tree and departs to find her husband.

Section 7 LL 839-915

Adam has been waiting for Eve and has cut her a garland. The image is clear – flowers and innocent growth cut down in their prime to mask a garland – or a wreath. In his innocence, Adam is utterly unaware of what is about to befall him.

Eve meets Adam near the tree and milton suggests that her face has developed some of the same rhetorical tricks associated with Satan as she seeks to encourage Adam to share the Fall. Her speech is “bland’ and her “countenance blithe” but she is given away by “distemper” suggestive a blushing and sexual heat. In her speech, the words “I / Have also tasted” are discreetly hidden away amongst justification and narrative retelling of the powers of the Tree. What is evident is her excitement for her new state, based on “growing up to godhead”. She says that she wants to be joined with Adam in all things and begs him to eat. He is astonished and drops the garland – “down” placed as a line opener connotes the descent to Hell much more than a simple dropping of the flowers. The roses now are “faded” – love is transient and is now dying is the suggestion. For the first time he gives her greeting of a similar level to that of Satan, but moves swiftly to regret, emphasised by the knelling D alliteration of “Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote?” He sees at once that she has been deceived, but is equally quick to declare his intention of dying with her and never to stand her loss even if given another Eve. “flesh of flesh/ Bone of my bone thou art.”

Section 8 LL916-989

Adam shows some admiration for his “adventurous” wife and his comments echo those that Satan suggested would come from God.

1. 925 6 No one can undo the eating, not even God
2. 927-36 You might not die since the serpent might have altered the fruit by eating it first and he has not died, he has actually improved his position, as might they
3. 938 -951 God is unlikely to wish to destroy all tha the has created and holds dear, especially if the “Adversary” is given an opportunity to gloat and to develop his influence as a result.

As he repeats his affirmation to stay with Eve, her relief is evident in the cry of gratitude to Love which opens her speech on Line 961. She seems momentarily to recognise her deed as a “crime” but moves away swiftly to confirm his actions. Denying her inner thoughts at L 827ff she claims that she would never ask him to share her guilt if death was going to be the result. She seems to be deceiving him here, in the manner of Satan and it is one of the signs for the reader that this eve is not the same innocent and audacious girl that started the book. Milton is able to show Experience gained in this way.

Section 9: LL990- end

There is little doubt that Milton wants the Fall of Man to be seen as stemming directly from Eve. In Lines 998-9 it is clear that Adam is fully aware of what he is doing but is “overcome with female charm”. This could be seen as indicative of man’s weakness when faced by woman’s sexual advances, but certainly at the time of writing links much ,ore closely to the power of the seductress, be it Delilah or the Sirens. The Earth again suffers the birth pangs of Original Sin, but Adam and eve take no notice; they “fancy” that they feel “Divinity”, but fall prey to lust immediately – he is “carnal”, she “lascivious” and a new seduction ensues.

Adam claims that he only now recognises her beauty, the Fall has created an awareness of sexual attraction, and leads her away to make love, with none of the chaste passion shown in book 4. Instead the language is that of sexual heat and licence – “ he forbore not glance or toy of amorous intent” suggests as wide a range of sexual pleasure as on eight wish to imagine. The flowers surrounding the bowers are short lived or even signifiers of death – asphodel lilies and hyacinths. Their post-coital rest gives no release, however. Post lapidarian Adam and Eve are wracked with guilt and an new awareness of shame. They are restless and given to bad dreams before awaking and dealing their nakedness. They sit in guilty silence until Adam blames Eve: “O eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear/ To that false worm…” and thus equates Eve’s name with the concept of Evil itself. Despite the fact that he ate of free will an din knowledge of the act, he seems unwilling to accept any share. He bemoans the fact that he will never be able to look on God again without being blinded and longs to live on in hiding, protected from any spying eye. He suggests that the pair cover their shame and leaves are found to tie around their waists. Milton digresses here to show a link to the recently discovered tribesman of the Amazon or of America who although unaware of the customs of the “civilised” world found it necessary to hide their genitals from view. It is clear that all descendants of Adam have inherited his sin.

The pair now are left in the final lines of the book to a life of bickering and squabble. Gone is the harmony of the opening of book 9, replaced by an angry and sullen mood, shown clearly by 1123ff. Milton claims that “Appetite” has replaced “Reason” and suggesting Adam to be “Distempered” when he speaks. This is a significant shift from the measured voice he has used earlier in the book. He blames Eve for her wanderlust and she is sparked to challenge him, suggesting that all might have happened had he been present or had Satan approached him alone. Indeed, she reminds him, he had agreed to let her go in the first place and begs to know why he had not “forbidden” the act. This question is key to an interpretation of the Fall. To have forbidden her, Adam would have been entrapping her and with no freedom there is no happiness, but had he done so, the Fall may not have happened. Wa sAdam weak and himself prey to feminine wiles when he agreed to he departure in line 372? Or is Eve simply trying to pass off the blame. After all, her ambition to be equal and to attain Divinity is what allowed Satan to prosper so quickly and so easily. Certainly Adam is clear: he did all he could. His warnings could not have been clearer and Eve was the one who, led by a wish to find “matter of glorious trial”, has allowed Satan to triumph. He ends with a warning to all men: If you indulge women’s wishes, they will not allow any restraint and then seek to blame others for their transgressions. The book ends on this high chauvinism and the pair are left alone in painful argument.

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Paradise Lost Introduction Ppt

I hope to screencast this introduction shortly. In the meantime it gives the bare bones of an introduction for A2 students who will be expected to undertake an amount of preparatory research.


A screencast can be found here:

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Paradise Lost IX: sound files

“Milton is a poet who must be read aloud” Discuss and illustrate this debate…


As a support for A level students reading Paradise Lost, I am going to record a sound version of the text and post it here. I intend to break the text into useful sections and to post MP3 files to the site. These may not have the panache of professional versions… on the other hand, they are free!

Use as you see fit.

Section 1: Milton considers his subject: L1-47

Section 2: Satan approaches: L 48-191

Section 3: morning in Eden – division of labour. L192-386

Section 4: Eve departs; Satan arrives L385-493

Section 5: Temptation 1 L 494-631

Section 6: the tree; the fall L632-838

Section 7: eve and Adam; The Fall L838-989

Section 8: the denouement L 989-end

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Paradise Lost IX thoughts about EVE.

A powerpoint to form the basis of discussion about the presentation of Eve…

This is work in progress and more materials relating to book IX will appear here in due course.

eve 1

The OCR teaching pack, for reference. PARADISE LOST PACK

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