in verse # 30 : the doors of perception

The first day of war in heaven didn’t go so well for Satan and his crew.  But as they counseled together in their defeat, Satan put forth a plan.  It takes the form of an assertion regarding that Heaven in which they are warring, to wit that it contains the seeds of its own destruction.  Milton here gives Satan the beautiful language he needs to persuade his angels, thrones, dominions, etc., and an argument that at root heaven is rotten[i] (i.e., “pregnant with infernal flame”):

Whereto with look compos’d Satan repli’d.                                                                                  Not uninvented that, which thou aright                                                                                       Beleiv’st so main to our success, I bring;                                                                                    Which of us who beholds the bright surface                                                                                    Of this Ethereous mould whereon we stand,                                                                              This continent of spacious Heav’n, adorn’d                                                                                 With Plant, Fruit, Flow’r Ambrosial, Gems and Gold,                                                                     Whose Eye so superficially surveys                                                                                            These things, as not to mind from whence they grow                                                                  Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,                                                                              Of spiritous and fiery spume, till toucht                                                                                     With Heav’n’s ray, and temper’d they shoot forth                                                                           So beauteous, op’ning to the ambient light.                                                                                 These in thir dark Nativity the Deep                                                                                             Shall yeild us, pregnant with infernal flame,                                                                                  Which into hollow[ii] Engines long and round                                                                                  Thick-ramm’d, at th’ other bore with touch of fire                                                                         Dilated and infuriate shall send forth                                                                                         From far with thund’ring noise among our foes                                                                             Such implements of mischief as shall dash                                                                                     To pieces, and o’erwhelm whatever stands                                                                                    Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarm’d                                                                            The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.[iii]

Note that Satan, in his last comment, gives to God the attributes of Zeus, to diminish him in the eyes of his infernal cohort.  Satan is of course describing the most advanced engine of war yet invented in Milton’s time, and he seems to anticipate, in “Such implements of mischief as shall dash To pieces,” things like grapeshot, canister shot and scattershot, projectiles designed to maim as well as kill (with scattershot improvised from materials at hand).  This description of the clever Satan comes to Adam and Eve from Raphael, sent from God “to render Man inexcusable… to admonish him of his obedience, of his free estate, of his enemy near at hand”[iv] — and, he has Satan add, it’s gonna be easy (Satan knows the power of positive thinking):

Nor long shall be our labor, yet ere dawn,                                                                                Effect shall end our wish.  Meanwhile revive;                                                                             Abandon fear; to strength and counsel join’d                                                                           Think nothing hard, much less to be despair’d.                                                                            He ended, and his words thir drooping cheer                                                                            Enlight’n’d, and thir languisht hope reviv’d.                                                                                 Th’ invention all admir’d, and each, how hee                                                                                  To be th’ inventer miss’d, so easie it seem’d                                                                              Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought                                                     Impossible: yet haply of thy Race                                                                                                      In future days, if Malice should abound,                                                                                   Some one intent on mischief, or inspir’d                                                                                    With dev’lish machination might devise                                                                                      Like instrument to plague the Sons of men                                                                                     For sin, on war and mutual slaughter bent.[v]

I think it safe to say, given his work with the Puritan government, that Milton captures quite accurately both the persuasion needed to embark on a devilish new weapons system and the envy of those who didn’t think of it first.  It’s easy to miss the envy; it flows like an undercurrent, being the second object of the verb “admir’d” in line 498, in effect “and each admired how he missed being the inventor, since it was so obvious, once proposed.”  This is now an archaic sense of admire, and I suspect it was in Milton’s time.  The sense is that they were amazed at their own obtuseness — and at Satan’s superficiality.  Milton, not at all obtuse, through Raphael, makes the connection to the councils of war he must have known, or known of.  It is clear that these infernal engines are sinful.

Though not, of course, to their satanic majesties.  Willing to accept mutual slaughter if they can’t have victory, they fall to like white on rice:

Forthwith from Council to the work they flew,                                                                         None arguing stood, innumerable hands                                                                                           Were ready, in a moment up they turn’d                                                                                     Wide the Celestial soil, and saw beneath                                                                                          Th’ originals of Nature in thir crude                                                                                            Conception; Sulphurous and Nitrous Foam                                                                               They found, they mingl’d, and with subtle Art,                                                                               Concocted and adusted they reduc’d                                                                                               To blackest grain, and into store convey’d:                                                                                  Part hidd’n veins digg’d up (nor hath this Earth                                                                            Entrails unlike) of Mineral and Stone,                                                                                   Whereof to found thir Engins and thir Balls                                                                                  Of missive ruin; part incentive reed                                                                                            Provide, pernicious with one touch to fire.                                                                                       So all ere day spring, under conscious Night                                                                           Secret they finish’d, and in order set,                                                                                          With silent circumspection unespi’d.                                                                                              Now when fair Morn Orient in Heav’n appear’d                                                                              Up rose the Victor Angels, and to Arms                                                                                        The matin Trumpet Sung: in Arms they stood                                                                                Of Golden Panoply, refulgent Host,                                                                                             Soon banded; others from the dawning Hills                                                                               Look’d round, and Scouts each Coast light-armed scour                                                                Each quarter, to descry the distant foe,                                                                                   Where lodg’d, or whither fled, or if for fight,                                                                                    In motion or in halt: him soon they met                                                                                            Under spread Ensigns moving nigh, in slow                                                                                     But firm Battalion; back with speediest Sail                                                                          Zophiel, of Cherubim the swiftest wing,                                                                                    Came flying, and in mid Aire aloud thus cri’d.

Arm, Warriours, Arm for fight, the foe at hand,                                                                          Whom fled we thought, will save us long pursuit                                                                            This day, fear not his flight; so thick a Cloud                                                                                    He comes, and settl’d in his face I see                                                                                              Sad resolution and secure:  let each                                                                                             His Adamantine coat gird well, and each                                                                                           Fit well his Helm, grip fast his orbed Shield,                                                                                    Born ev’n or high, for this day will pour down,                                                                                If I conjecture aught, no drizzling show’r,                                                                                     But rattling storm of Arrows barb’d with fire.[vi]

This is where Blake and Milton intersect.  These are Blake’s “dark satanic mills,” and I can’t help but think that, far from being “of the Devil’s party,” Milton is laughing up his sleeve at the futility of Satan’s efforts.  Oh sure, he wins the battle, but he loses the war — the other side uproots the hills of Heaven and drops them on the artillery and the fight moves underground.  This is Raphael’s cautionary fable to Adam and Eve.

As a Mormon, I have a different view of Adam and Eve and Eden from that presented by Milton in Paradise lost.  I take the story of the Garden as emblematic of the pre-mortal existence for each of us.  With Milton I can laugh at Satan for his vanity and pride, but to me that is the core of the War in Heaven.  Satan had to have been as persuasive as Milton portrays him, to lead away a third of the host of heaven — not the army of God, but his children.  (Although, if I were writing this epic, I would have Satan destroying the hosts of  Heaven with nuclear weapons.)  Nonetheless, each of us, despite having resisted him, has to take the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil from his hand.  To be free agents, we have to be able to make choices with consequences; Satan offers us that fruit.  He is, fittingly, the opposition who makes agency free; each of us has to choose to follow him into a world wherein free agents collide, sometimes with tragic consequences, sometimes with comic consequences, but never without consequence.  So I am Adam, my wife is Eve, and our hands are sticky with the juice of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We wander in the lone and dreary world — but hold on, I hear you say:  didn’t Milton say it better?

Yes, spoilsport; so I will give him the last word, after which it will be your turn:

Some natural tears they dropp’d, but wip’d them soon;                                                                The World was all before them, where to choose                                                                           Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:                                                                              They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,                                                                     Through Eden took thir solitary way.[vii]

 


[i] Or at least rusted.

[ii] In the Project Gutenberg text, which appears to have been typed from the 2nd edition, though that is not specified, this word is spelled “hallow,” a pun Milton might well have intended.

[iii] Paradise lost : a poem in twelve books / John Milton. – A new edition / edited by Merritt Y. Hughes. – New York : Odyssey, c1962; book 6, lines 469-491.

[iv] Ibid., Book 5, Argument.

[v] Ibid., Book 6, lines 492-506.

[vi] Ibid., Book 6, lines 507-546.

[vii] Ibid., Book 12, lines 645-649.

About Dennis Clark

Dennis Clark should have been locked up long ago, but since he was allowed to wed and breed, the cat is out of the bag, the toothpaste is out of the tube, the cat is pawing the toothpaste and you should be careful what you put in your mouth. Put a good poem in your mouth!
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