Welcome back to my Read Along With Me Challenge!
Today I’ll be discussing the first 3 chapters of Paradise Lost (I thought it would be easier to split the book up into small chunks).
You can read Chapter 1 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 1 in modern English here:
John Milton introduces the poem by speaking directly to his muse*, asking for guidance in depicting the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Suddenly, the scene shifts to Satan, confused and defeated, after falling from Heaven. He fought against God, with an army of angels, such as Beelzebub, and lost. He looks around him, and sees many other “fallen angels” in Hell. He gathers them together and rallies them to fight against God again, with a different approach this time. They’ve heard God is planning to create a new world, and so Satan plans to destroy it.
*Muse: A woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.
After writing the plot summary in basic prose, Milton’s story actually sounds really creative and interesting! It is a fictional embellishment of the events recorded in Revelation Chapter 12. However, I find the poetic language and structure really difficult to understand. The poem has a unique sense of rhythm (so I’m told; I am yet to discover it!) and doesn’t have a rhyme scheme. Then again, I’m new to the text and I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
You can read Chapter 2 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 2 in modern English here:
Satan consults various “fallen angels” and discusses the best way to wage war against God. Some are in favour of battle, whereas others warn against recapture, and favour creating an empire in Hell to rival Heaven. They would rather serve themselves then be subject to God again.
Satan decides to leave Hell, to search for God’s new world, and meets two interesting characters guarding the gates: Death, and Sin. Apparently, Satan had a secret sexual relationship with Sin, who then gave birth to Death. (What?! Very metaphorical, but very creepy!) They are reluctant to let Satan out, but decide their loyalty is to him, as he is family, rather than God. Satan leaves Hell and sees Heaven in the distance, as well as God’s new world (Earth).
There was more to get my head around in this chapter, as there was a lot of dialogue and I couldn’t always keep track of who each angel was. The scenes between Satan, Sin and Death were disturbing as well, as there are clear references to rape and violence, which I suppose are the sorts of horrid activities Milton imagined would regularly take place in Hell.
I got a little more used to the style of writing, although I found there were some passages which seemed relatively easy to read, followed by a passage that seemed ridiculously tricky and elaborate.
You can read Chapter 3 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 3 in modern English here:
Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 both take place in Hell. However, the setting of Chapter 3 is in Heaven. God sees Satan escape Hell and head towards Earth. God sees that Satan will tempt Adam and Eve, and that mankind will fall, and punishment is needed. This highlights God’s omniscience (all knowing) and omnipresence (all seeing) powers. The Son asks God to be merciful and offers himself as a sacrifice to save the sins of Adam and Eve, and all subsequent humans. This foreshadows when Jesus, the Son, will ultimately sacrifice himself to save the world from their sins.* Meanwhile, Satan has reached Earth, and pretends to be an angel in order to get directions to the garden of Eden, and continues on his journey to reach Adam and Eve.
I found this chapter easier to understand because of my knowledge of The Bible – for example, the doctrine that God had a plan from the beginning, and that both the human race’s fall and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus was planned for from the start.
After reading this chapter, I also came to the realisation that I think Paradise Lost would work better as a play – the way the 3 key settings are laid out, the way Milton shifts scenes and the excessive dialogue each character has, I think would be more enjoyable in a play format rather than a poem. However, I can understand why it isn’t a play; casting people as God and Satan respectively would have been controversial and offensive – particularly at the time it was written!
Thanks for reading this post!
I hope you didn’t find Paradise Lost too heavy. I’m really finding these blog posts helpful to write, so if you know of any other English students, don’t be afraid to share this around. Tomorrow I’ll be discussing chapters 4 to 6, so tune in then when we can read the next parts together!