Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep: the infernal Peers there sit in council.

5

Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly Muse !? that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd,' who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos: or if Sion hill 5

10

1 Of Man's first disobedience.—After the manner of other Epic Poets, Milton announces his grand subject in the very first words oi his immortal poem. His critics have justly called attention to the sublimity of the sentiments which open the poem, and the simple majesty of the language in which they are expressed.

2 Heavenly Muse. As the nine Muses were fabled by the heathens to preside over literature and the fine arts, it was usual for poets, in the opening of their works, to invoke the aid of the Muse of Poetry. Milton keeps up the form of this ancient custom, though he expressly disclaims the profane Muse who haunted the Aonian Mount (Helicon, in Bæotia); and if there be any virtue in recognizing a Muse, he invokes that Muse who may be poetically fancied to have aided Moses in those books, from which our author drew his subject. But after this formal tribute to classical usage, he, in the true character of a Christian poet, directly addresses the Holy Spirit, (1. 17,) whose aid he might well bespeak, in a work designed “to justify the ways of God to men.”

3 Secret top of Oreb, or of Sinai.Horeb and Sinai were two contiguous summits in the same group of mountains-secret, because shrouded in clouds and thick darkness at the giving of the Law, Exod. xx; or because, while Moses was in close communion with God, at that time, on the mount, the congregation of Israel were debarred from all approach to it, as “the secret place of the Most High."

4 That Shepherd.—Moses, who kept the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, Exod. iii. 1.

6 Sisn hill.-One of the heights on which the city of Jerusalem stood. Milton appropriately supposes his heavenly Muse may delight in this spot, 35 The mother of mankind, what time his pride Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host

Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook,' that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aoniau mount, while it pursues

15 Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

And chiefly thou, O Spirit! that dost prefer Before all temples the upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for thou know'st;—thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread, 20 Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast abyss, And madest it pregnant :-what in me is dark, Illumine! what is low, raise and support! That to the height of this great argument I may assert eternal Providence,

25 And justify the ways of God to men.

Say first,-for Heaven hides nothing from thy view, Nor the deep tract of Hell,--say first, what cause Moved our grand parents, in that happy state, Favoured of Heaven so highly, to fall off

30 From their Creator, and transgress his will,For one restraint, lords of the world besides? Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?

The infernal serpent: he it was, whose guile, Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived

as David deposited the sacred Ark there, whence it is frequently called the “Holy hill."

Siloa's brook, that floved fast by the oracle of God.--Siloa, or Siloam, was a fountain close under the walls of the temple of Jerusalem. The pool was frequented for washing, and the waters that flowed from it were discharged into the brook Kidron.

2 Dove-like sat'st brooding.--Gen. i. 2, “The Spirit of God mored on the lace of the waters." Milton gives the literal translation of the Hebrew word.

40

45

50

Of rebel angels; by whose aid, aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If he opposed; and, with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in Heaven, and battle proud,
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition; there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.

Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal. But his doom
Reserved him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him. Round he throws his baleful eyes,
That witnessed huge affliction and dismay,
Mixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.
At once, as far as angels ken, he views
The dismal situation waste and wild.
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace, flamed; yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe;
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell; hope never comes,
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.
Such place eternal justice had prepared

55

60

65

70

Witnessed – 1. e., gave expression to, indicated.

For those rebellious; here their prison ordained
In utter darkness; and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of heaven,
As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole."
O, how unlike the place from whence they fell ! 75
There the companions of his fall, o'erwhelmed
With floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire,
He soon discerns; and weltering by his side,
One next himself in power, and next in crime,
Long after known in Palestine, and named

80
Beëlzebub :2 to whom the arch enemy,
And thence in heaven called Satan,' with bold words
Breaking the horrid silence, thus began :

“ If thou beest het-But, O, how fallen ! how changed “From him," who in the happy realms of light, 85 “ Clothed with transcendent brightness, didst outshine

? As from the centre thrice to the utmost pole.—That is, from the centre of the earth to the pole of the celestial sphere surrounding the earth on all sides. It has been noted, that while Homer makes the site of Hell as far below the deepest earthly pit, as Heaven is above the Earth, (Iliad, viii. 16,) and Virgil doubles the distance, (Æneid, vi. 579.) Milton increases it to threefold; and there is truth in the remark, that Milton's description of Hell, from 1. 59 to 75, surpasses those given by the most renowned poets of antiquity, in even a greater proportion than his increased statement of its distance from heaven.

2 Beëlzebub. The name of an idol worshipped at Ekron in Palestine, 2 Kings, i. 2. In Matt. xii. 24, the same name is given to the Prince of the Devils; and our Lord uses Satan as synonymous. Milton adopts the name to distinguish the next in power to Satan himself. 3 Satan.-In Hebrew signifies an adversary, an enemy e' accuser.

If thou beest he, &c.—The thoughts in the first speech and description of Satan are justly pointed to, by Addison, as wonderfully fitted to give us a full idea of his character. Pride, envy, revenge, obstinacy, despair, and impenitence, so artfully interwoven in his first speech, are the very passions which break out separately, on fitting occasions, in the progress of the poem.

5 But O, how fallen! how changed from him.--Compare Isaiah's description of Lucifcr's ambition and fall, xiv. 12, and Virgil's affecting description of Ilector's corpse, Æneid, ii. 274, from both of which Milton has borrowed telling touches.

[ocr errors]

“ Myriads, though bright! If he, whom mutual league, “ United thoughts and counsels, equal liope “ And hazard in the glorious enterprize, “ Joined with me once, now misery hath joined 90 “In equal ruin; into what pit thou seest,

From what height fallen: so much the stronger proved “ He with his thunder;' and till then who knew “ The force of those dire arms? Yet not for those, “Nor what the potent Victor in his rage

95 “ Can else inflict, do I repent, or change

Though changed in outward lustre,—that fixed mind,
“And high disdain from sense of injured merit,
“ That with the Mightiest raised me to contend,
“ And to the fierce contention brought along

100 “ Innumerable force of spirits armed, “ That durst dislike his reign; and, me preferring, “ His utmost power with adverse power opposed “ In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven, “ And shook his throne. What though the field be lost? 105 “ All is not lost; the unconquerable will, “ And study of revenge, immortal hate, “ And courage never to submit or yield, « And what is else not to be overcome,—2 “That glory never shall his wrath, or might,

110 “ Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace “ With suppliant knee, and deify his power, “ Who from the terror of this arm so late “Doubted his empire,—that were low indeed! " That were an ignominy and shame beneath

115

1 He with his thunder.-Satan disdains to name his Creator, --now his enemy,—though he cannot but admit his superiority; which, however, he ascribes to his command of thunder.

2 And what is else not to be overcome; i. e., if there be any other qualities not to be overcome, In these Satan placed his glory, which, he vaunted, should never be extorted from him.

« VorigeDoorgaan »