Paradise Lost Summary
John Milton (1608-1674), is considered to be one of the most brilliant in EnglishLiterature. A multi-linguist with a prodigious memory, Milton is the author of several celebrated poems, pamphlets and prose work. By 1652, Milton had completely lost his sight. In spite of this disability, Milton completed his magnum opus, “Paradise Lost,” in 1667, by dictating his work to his three grown daughters.
“Paradise Lost,” is an epic poem. It displays several characteristics of this genre. It is a long narrative poem that focuses on a serious theme: the fall of man. It opens in media res, or in the middle of the story, and then takes the reader back to prior happenings. Milton uses extended, dramatic similes, catalogs (lists), battle scenes, interventions of God in the affairs of men, the invocation to the Muse, and a trip from the underworld, and begins the poem with a declaration of the theme. All these devices belong to the epic genre.
Milton’s poem is written in blank verse. He rejects “the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming” (Milton, 1945). Instead of rhyming couplets, Milton reverts to the traditional heroic verse without rhyme. There is a lengthy list of characters, ranging from Satan to the several leading angels. The characters in the epic stand out in strong delineation.
The plot of “Paradise Lost,” narrates the Biblical story of Creation, Satan’s fall from grace and banishment to Hell, Adam and Eve’s sojourn in Paradise, the temptation of Eve by Satan and the banishment of Adam and Eve from Eden. All these incidents are dealt with in great detail. Milton elaborately describes Hell, Eden, the seven days of Creation, the battle between Satan’s army and the Heavenly hosts, and a major portion of Biblical history. In Books 1-6, the action moves from Satan’s and God’s respective councils, Satan’s determination to bring about man’s downfall as an act of vengeance for his own banishment, Satan’s visit to Eden and Raphael’s warning to Adam and Eve about the threat posed by Satan.
In Book 1, Milton invokes his Muse in the tradition of the epic poem. The subject of the poem is introduced: the fall of Adam and Eve. Milton asserts that his purpose in writing the poem is “to justify the ways of God to man” (Book 1, 26). Satan is introduced, languishing with his fellow-rebels in Chaos. Although he has been vanquished in the battle for the throne of Heaven, Satan remains defiant, saying, “All is not lost; the unconquerable Will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield” (Milton, 1, 106/107/108). One cannot but admire such an attitude!
Book 2 describes the council in Hell. Milton’s characterization of the devils is particularly striking in its resemblance to the personalities of men. Moloc is the typical aggressive individual who rejects “wiles” and suggests open warfare as the means to resolve all conflicts; Belial is the ultimate hypocrite who is graceful and fair in exterior but, inside, “all was false and hollow” (Milton, 2, 112); Mammon is the cautious peace-lover. The portrayal of these different personalities makes for interesting reading.
Book 3 is focused on Milton’s theme in “Paradise Lost”: God’s justification for his ways to man. This is where Milton emphasizes his belief that God is not responsible for mans’ fall from grace. God asserts that he placed man in a position of “Uninterrupted joy, unrivaled love” (Milton, 3, 68) and it is man’s own fault that this paradise is in jeopardy. God also gives his emphatic declaration of mans’ free will: “I made him just and right, / Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall (Milton, 3, 98/99). Man is responsible for his choices.
Book 4 gives a deeper view of Satan’s character. One can empathize with Satan in his regret as he declares his hatred for the sun’s brightness as it recalls his own lofty position “Till Pride and worse Ambition threw me down (Milton, 4, 40). His inner torment is clear, even though he maintains his façade of defiance before his followers. His pride does not allow him to beg forgiveness and he says, “For never can true reconcilement grow/ Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep (Milton, 4, 98/99). This is one of the many insights into life which Milton gives in his epic.
Book 5 begins on a very tender note. Adam’s awakening of Eve with words of love and Eve’s reply in the same tone is deeply touching. Eve’s words, “O Sole in whom my thoughts find all repose, / My Glorie, my Perfection,” (Milton, 5, 28/29) are absolutely beautiful.
Book 6 is a vivid description of the battle between good and evil. Milton denounces war: “Heaven the seat of bliss / Brooks, not the works of violence and Warr” (Milton, 6, 273/274). The scene of battle is another characteristic feature of the epic genre.
Maybe the fact that Milton is reputed to have memorized the Bible would have helped him to write this extremely detailed account of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden. I am particularly fascinated by the character of Satan, which is very complex. Satan is the most vital character in the poem. I must confess that the complex style, coupled with “long poetic sentences, run-on lines, and recurring images” (Milton lecture, 2) does not make for easy reading! However, the majesty of the verse begins to exert a strong appeal and compels attention. Once one begins to enjoy the racy pace of Milton’s narrative, the many insights into human nature become clear, and the poem remains relevant even in modern times.
Works Cited. Milton, John. “Paradise Lost.” Title of Collection. Ed. Editors Name(s). City of Publication: Publisher, Year. Page range of entry. Print.