Read and Review: The Wife’s Lament

Read and Review: The Wife’s Lament

This is a slightly more unconventional book review, or should I say, manuscript review.

As a university student, I recently went exam season, which meant it was really hard to read (and finish) any new books, so I thought I’d talk about some literature we studied on the course instead.

The Wife’s Lament is an anonymous poem, in the form of a lament, written in Old English. The edition I read was published in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

The Wife’s Lament is quite a short poem, which was refreshing for me – poetry isn’t my favourite form anyway, and I already worked my way through the entirety of Milton’s Paradise Lost earlier in 2016.

This poem is primarily about love and loss, but what I find so fascinating is the variety of interpretations that can be drawn from the poem.

Some like to read the poem as a message from a retainer to their lord. Anglo-Saxon England, loyalty to leaders was hugely important and lords and retainers had a special relationship. This interpretation also works well when considering the poem uses terms such as ‘lord’ and ‘master’ frequently.

However, translators have assigned this poem The Wife’s Lament – suggesting a female author, and thus not a retainer, but a wife longing for her husband. Again, this could be evidenced in the text as it uses words such as ‘family’, ‘lovers’ and the phrase ‘dearest loved one’.

It has even been suggested that The Wife’s Lament symbolises the relationship between Christ and his people, longing for them to turn from their pagan ways and embrace Christianity. I’m not sure how convincing I find this argument.

Instead, I prefer the interpretation that the narrator in question is actually… dead!

What I find so favourable about this idea is how it fits with the elusive word ‘earth-cave’ in the poem – nobody really seems to know what it means. Of course, with a Gothic head on my shoulders, I’d love to think that her ‘earth-cave’ means her grave. This seems particularly convincing, when she goes on to refer to the those who are still alive and present on Earth, and can enjoy love and happiness.

All in all, it doesn’t matter which interpretation you pick, or whether you come up with another idea of your own.

The Wife’s Lament is a short poem packed with emotions, and it is my favourite Old English text I’ve read so far. It really doesn’t take long to read (a whopping 2 pages) so if you can get access to it, I strongly recommend you read it.

Thank you for reading this slightly unconventional book review! Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, or click ‘Follow’ to read slightly more conventional book-related blog posts in future.

That’s all for now!

– Judith

Read Along With Me Day #5: Paradise Lost

Read Along With Me Day #5: Paradise Lost

Welcome back to my Read Along With Me Challenge!

It’s the final post about Paradise Lost! Honestly, I’m so glad because it’s a tough beast of a book to work through.


Chapter 10

You can read Chapter 10 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 10 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

God watches Adam and Eve from Heaven, and sees their Fall. The Son goes down to Eden and tries to find them. Out of shame, Adam and Eve hide, revealing to The Son what they’ve done. He punishes Adam and Eve. He tells Eve that childbirth will be painful and that she must submit to her husband. For Adam, the ground will not be as fertile as it once was.* Finally, The Son curses the Serpent, for deceiving Eve. Adam and Eve have an argument because of the woe that is to come on then, but eventually make up and keep their relationship intact.

Meanwhile, Satan returns from Eden, where Sin and Death are chatting and create a bridge between Earth and Hell, making it easier for the demons of Hell to roam the Earth. Satan meets the others in Hell and relays his triumphant story of The Fall and expects applause, but instead hears hissing. One by one, the demons have turned into serpents and become outraged with Satan.

*Shmoop Summary

My Thoughts:

Again, Chapter 10 was a really long chapter and it really emphasised he tragedy of Adam and Eve’s actions. I felt sympathy towards Adam, who seems so full of remorse, as well as a yearning to have some kind of relationship with God, his Creator. Again, I was impressed by some of Milton’s vivid descriptions – I really liked the metaphor of the bridge between Heaven and Hell created by the character Sin (i.e. because of sin, humans are condemned to Hell, and will subsequently “meet” Death). I also liked the symbolism of turning Satan and his soldiers into serpents, and it highlights how God has power over Satan, even in the depths of Hell.


Chapter 11

You can read Chapter 11 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 11 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Adam and Eve repent and pray to God for forgiveness. God decides to be merciful and plans that The Son will eventually sacrifice himself to redeem them and re-establish a full relationship with Him again. However, God decrees they must leave the Garden of Eden – they are now tainted by sin, and cannot live in a perfect place. The Archangel Michael flies down to give them the news, which is received with wails and cries by Adam and Eve. However, to encourage Adam, Michael shows him a series of visions which foreshadow later events in the Old Testament, promising a hope for the human race.

My Thoughts:

There were lots of classical references in this chapter which I did not understand at all, and skipped over most of them. The theme of sadness and woe was still present in this chapter, although there were glimmers of a brighter, more hopeful future – a “silver lining”, if you like. When Adam was shown visions of the future, it very much reminded me of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and suggested there would be both positive and negative changes.


Chapter 12

You can read Chapter 12 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 12 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Michael continues to show and tell Adam the events of the Old Testament (in a very condensed way), touching on the genealogies until he reaches the birth of Jesus, which is recorded in the New Testament.  This narrative leads into fundamental Christian theology; he explains how Jesus is both God and Man, who died for our sins – suffering the punishment so we don’t have to. With these joyful news, Adam and Eve lovingly part from the Garden of Eden, to live their lives for God on Earth…

My Thoughts:

I’ve finished Paradise Lost! I’m so proud of myself! With regards to Chapter 12, I thought it was okay to read – a lot of it I could blitz through, like other parts of the poem, because it was summarising Biblical accounts which were already familiar to me. I think it’s definitely worth reading some of the Bible passages Milton draws from – The Creation and The Fall, as well as Satan’s fall from Heaven are all heavily featured in Paradise Lost – and it doesn’t matter if you’re religious or non-religious: what matters is understanding the text.

If you’re interested in reading any passage of the Bible (in any translation – modern or old) I would recommend biblegateway.com – it’s an easy to use website that is really helpful in finding the bits of the Bible you want.


And there we have it! Thank you so much for following me on this journey, whether you’ve been reading Paradise Lost alongside me or just following my commentaries. If you’ve missed any of the posts you can catch up here, or if you’d like to read some of my other challenges, you can find them here:

I suppose the crucial question is, after following my blog posts this week, do you think you’ll pluck up the courage to read Paradise Lost for yourself? Let me know your thoughts!

– Judith

Read Along With Me Day #4: Paradise Lost

Read Along With Me Day #4: Paradise Lost

Welcome back to my Read Along With Me Challenge!

We’re drawing near to the end of the book – how exciting! I’ll be talking about chapters 7, 8 and 9 of Paradise Lost today.


Chapter 7

You can read Chapter 7 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 7 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Milton starts this chapter by referring to another Muse to help him tell the rest of the story. Then, the scene shifts back to Adam and the Archangel Raphael’s conversation. Raphael explains to Adam how Satan fell from Heaven after the war, and then how God created the world, including him and Eve. The rest of the chapter is a retelling of Genesis 1 and 2.

*Muse: A woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

My Thoughts:

For the most part of this chapter, I fully understood what Milton was saying (progress!), because of my background knowledge of the Bible. The archaic language was still really obvious but it didn’t slow me down as much, probably because the language used for the retelling of the creation account could have been lifted from an AV Bible. However, because I understood the narrative, I could really begin to appreciate Milton’s use of creative vocabulary and vivid imagery – something I’ve not been able to grasp until now.


Chapter 8

You can read Chapter 8 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 8 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Raphael and Adam continue to chat, talking about God’s goodness in providing a beautiful world and a beautiful wife. However, Raphael warns Adam not to fall into sin by thinking about Eve in a lustful or carnal way. Adam is concerned for the safety of Eve, who seems less “pure” than him, and Raphael again warns of Satan’s plans to destroy Eden. There is noticeable foreshadowing of The Fall in this chapter.

My Thoughts:

Unlike Chapter 7, I barely understood any of this chapter! I could just about tell how Adam and Eve appreciated each other and valued their relationship, which again adds to the tragic “spoiler”, that we already know both Adam and Eve sin, and Adam blames Eve, which obviously taints their perfect relationship.


Chapter 9

You can read Chapter 9 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 9 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

This is the turning point in the book; Milton openly tells the reader that he must not relate the actions of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. Then, we are taken to the Garden of Eden, where Satan sneaks in again and takes the form of a snake. Meanwhile, Eve has persuaded to work in a different part of the garden, so as to maximise the work she and Adam can complete. Adam is reluctant to let her go, knowing everything Raphael has told him. Eve is in the garden, when Satan approaches and tempts her, shunning God’s warning against the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and so Eve eats of the fruit of the tree. She takes some to Adam, who is shocked and horrified, but also gives in and eats. They instantly become aware of their sin, guilt and shame and hide.

My Thoughts:

In case you couldn’t tell from the size of this summary, Chapter 9 is huge! It was definitely a challenge working my way through it (Judith, wasn’t that the point of these blog posts?). I could sense the build-up to Adam and Eve’s Fall at the start of this chapter, but it certainly took its time happening, and I wish it had happened quicker. Also, Eve really got on my nerves this chapter. Is she stupid?!

1. Eve eats the fruit because she sees a talking snake, and wonders how he got the ability to talk and so eats it too, hoping to get the same ability, when she can already talk

2. Eve doesn’t notice anything odd about the notion of a snake eating an apple!

– Snakes don’t eat fruit

– Snakes don’t have hands; how would he pick it from the tree?

3. Eve has literally been warned 2 or 3 times about an evil liar prowling about the Garden of Eden, then meets a strange creature and takes it for granted that they are telling the truth

I thought Milton’s expansion of the Biblical account in this chapter was brilliant – it made the scenes tense, dramatic, and there was a tragic sense of “NOOOO” when Eve gave in, despite knowing it would happen anyway!


Thanks for reading this post!

I’ve almost finished the book – thank you for sticking with me through this challenge. Come back tomorrow to read the Finale, where I’ll be talking about about chapters 10, 11 and 12!

That’s all for now!

– Judith


 

Read Along With Me Day #3: Paradise Lost

Read Along With Me Day #3: Paradise Lost

Welcome back to my Read Along With Me Challenge!

Today I’ll be discussing chapters 4, 5 and 6 of Paradise Lost (by the end of this post we’ll be a whopping half way through!).


Chapter 4

You can read Chapter 4 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 4 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Satan reaches the garden of Eden and for a moment, doubts himself. It isn’t too late to repent, surely. Earth is so beautiful; it would be a shame to destroy it…

Nope!

Satan comes to his senses and decides that after all, he is the embodiment of all evil and Hell, and could never bow to God. He spies on Adam and Eve in an attempt to work out how to trick them, but he is caught by the Archangel Gabriel. A fight almost breaks out, but Satan realises he would inevitably lose and be sent back to Hell, so runs away.

My Thoughts:

By Chapter 4, I’m slowly grasping more the plot, and I definitely think recapping what I’ve read after each chapter is helpful to my understanding. The archaic language is still very tricky, and I still find the parts which follow the Biblical account the most interesting and easy to read, whereas the bits Milton has added to or adapted with creative license were less interesting and more difficult to follow.


Chapter 5

You can read Chapter 5 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 5 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

In Eden, Eve wakes up from a nightmare, where unbeknown to her, Satan was willing her to eat from the Tree of Life, which they have been forbidden to do.

In Heaven, God tells the Archangel Raphael to warn Adam and Eve about the danger of being tempted by Satan. He goes down to meet them, and the three of them have a lovely meal together (as you do). Raphael explains how blasphemous and horrid Satan was, revolting against God in Heaven and starting a war. He also explains how God gave mankind free will, so that they will serve God out of genuine love, rather because of slavery, and urges them to not be led astray.

My Thoughts:

Chapter 5 was very long, and I felt that the discourse between Adam and Raphael could have been over quicker than it was, had it not used lots of lengthy and complicated language. Most of Raphael’s dialogue was another retelling of Revelation 12 from The Bible. Also, I’m almost halfway through the book, and that makes me feel happy! I can definitely sense the build-up to Adam and Eve’s fall, and despite the language and form, I still enjoy the story and want to know what happens next.


Chapter 6

You can read Chapter 6 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 6 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

Raphael continues his story of the first conflict between Satan and the Father. He tells Adam about the war between God and Satan, which goes on for a few days, before The Son defeats Satan triumphantly. The Son, endowed with the power of God, surrounds the rebel angels, Satan included, and drives them out of the Gate of Heaven through a hole in Heaven’s ground. They fall for nine days through Chaos, before landing in Hell.

To close his tale, Raphael warns Adam that Satan has begun to plot the doom of mankind… (hint hint, be on your guard).

My Thoughts:

Wait, what is going on? I struggled to understand this chapter until I was about halfway through. I had to use Sparknotes to help me write that summary, because the main points just wouldn’t stay in my head. My mind kept wandering for some reason and I just couldn’t engage with the text. I’m annoyed because I thought I was getting more used to the language of Paradise Lost and now I’m struggling again! The only part that was really obvious was the retelling of creation, found in Genesis 1 and 2, because the wording was really similar to the AV Bible.


Thanks for reading this post!

Phew, I’m halfway through. Join me tomorrow to read chapters 7, 8 and 9!

That’s all for now!

– Judith

Read Along With Me Day #2: Paradise Lost

Read Along With Me Day #2: Paradise Lost

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).


Chapter 1

You can read Chapter 1 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 1 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

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.

My Thoughts:

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.


Chapter 2

You can read Chapter 2 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 2 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

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).

My Thoughts:

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.


Chapter 3

You can read Chapter 3 of Milton’s original work and a sample of Chapter 3 in modern English here:

Plot Summary:

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.

*See Mark 15, John 19, Matthew 27 or Luke 23

My Thoughts:

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!

– Judith

 

Read Along With Me Day #1: Paradise Lost

Read Along With Me Day #1: Paradise Lost

Hello!

If you don’t know already, I am an English student. This means I get to read and study some absolutely amazing books. However, it means I also have to read some things I really don’t enjoy. I’ve devised the Read Along With Me Challenge because I’ve seen posts and series on WordPress with a similar idea.

The idea is this: I will read a book and write about each chapter over this week, documenting my experiences, summarising the plot, basically coming to terms with the set text.

If you haven’t already guessed from the title of this post, the text I will be reading and blogging about this week is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton!

I saw this text and immediately found it daunting, so as an introduction to this series, I’ve decided today’s post will be simply me sharing my research on Milton and the context surrounding the poem, to help you (and me) get our heads around it!


Context:

John Milton was an English poet who lived in the 1600s.

At the time, there was a lot of religious conflict, between those who belonged to the Church of England and those who wanted to re-establish Catholicism in England.

Milton took a very public stance on religion, attacking the corruption he saw in the Catholic Church and subsequently calling for the abolition of bishops and priests.

Milton’s view soon became even more radical. He declared all organised forms of Christian church an obstacle to true faith, and followed his own private religion. Milton’s highly individual view of Christianity is part of what makes Paradise Lost so personal and interesting.

Milton believed that the Fall of Adam and Eve was a fortunate event, because it provided the opportunity for humans to redeem themselves by true repentance.

Paradise Lost is Milton’s way of preventing biblical stories for engaging Christian readers and help them to be “better” Christians.


Basic Summary:

Paradise Lost is about how Adam and Eve were created, and how they lost their place in the Garden of Eden. The poem also provides the origin story of Satan, who sought revenge against God and tempted Adam and Eve to their downfall.


Helpful Links:

If you want to do some more research or extra reading, you can use these links here – they thoroughly helped me write this post:


Thanks for reading this post! Tomorrow I’ll be back discussing the first 3 chapters of Paradise Lost, so stick with me, and we can read the text together!

– Judith