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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: 9. Paradise Lost, Book I

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Professor John Rogers: In the invocation to Book

Nine of Paradise Lost, Milton describes -- and

it's wonderful to see this representation of this process

that, I think, we've been wondering about --

he describes the process by which the heavenly muse

inspires, and he says inspires nightly, the composition of his

epic. He explains that the subject

for his heroic song -- and of course, we'll be getting to Book

Nine later, but it's relevant for our

discussion today -- Milton explains that the subject for

his heroic song, the subject of the Fall of man,

"pleas'd me long choosing, and beginning late…"

-- pleased me long choosing and beginning late.

We know very well Milton decided to write an epic poem at

a very early age, but his decision to write an

epic poem, some epic, long predated his

sense of what exactly that epic was going to be about.

He was long in choosing the subject of his heroic song and,

as we know from all of -- and we've encountered a number of

them -- all of those protestations of delay Milton

began his epic late. We last left the poet in the

1640s. Areopagitica,

you'll remember, was written in 1644.

The story of Adam and Eve and of the fall of Satan may strike

us -- having read or about to read Paradise Lost --

may strike us as a natural subject for Milton to have

chosen for his epic poem. After all, this is an extremely

pious Puritan. But as late as the 1640s,

this was not at all the epic subject that Milton was

intending to use. Milton -- and we know this --

Milton was a political revolutionary,

and when he anticipated writing the great poem,

he consistently imagined that it would be a poem on a

nationalist theme. Milton's would be an epic

demonstrating the origins and the heroic achievement of his

own nation, England; or maybe he'd be thinking a

little broadly of Britain, which is England,

Scotland and Wales. In this respect it would

resemble Spenser's Faerie Queene, or perhaps

more importantly, Virgil's Aeneid --

other nationalist epics.Now Milton at the same

time -- we're talking about the 1640s -- had been contemplating

writing a play. That was supposed to be a

tragedy that, in some manuscript drafts that

we still have today -- in some manuscript drafts,

he titled this prospective tragedy Paradise Lost and

in other drafts Adam Unparadised.

Actually all of these early drafts -- these notes,

these outlines for this tragedy that actually never seems to

have gotten written -- are included in the Tyco packet.

But by the time Milton begins writing his epic,

he abandons his plan for a nationalistic poem,

a nationalist poem, and decides instead to use the

subject matter that he had been intending for that prospective

tragedy, Paradise Lost.

So the reasons for this really enormous shift in plans,

and the enormous shift in subject matter,

are worth exploring.Milton had devoted nineteen years to

the world of politics. A lot has happened since the

exuberant optimism of the political spirit that we see in

a tract like Areopagitica. In 1649,

the great Puritan Revolution reached an unspeakable climax.

A minority government of revolutionary Puritans had

effectively taken control of the state.

The radical Puritan Parliament voted to execute the tyrant --

what they considered to be the tyrant,

King Charles I -- and to establish its own government.

Milton participated with extraordinary enthusiasm and

considerable zeal in the establishment of England's new,

non-monarchic government, initially a commonwealth and

then what we can think of as a republic.

He had been the foremost propagandist for the Puritan

side. He had not only written really

quite daringly on behalf of the execution of this particular

king, but he wrote another pamphlet,

Eikonoklastes (which is included in the Hughes edition),

which is a shocking defense of just regicide in

general -- not just in England, but as a kind of political

principle.Milton probably around this time,

around the time that he was writing and finishing the

regicide treatises, began to lose his eyesight.

This is in the earliest years of the commonwealth government.

Nonetheless, even blind, Milton served the

new regime as both a state licenser -- and I won't even get

in to the irony of the fact that Milton seems to [laughs]

actually become the licenser, the licenser of printed text

that, of course, he had seven or eight years

before so utterly abhorred in Areopagitica.

He seems to have had some work as the state licenser,

but also more importantly (and this was a much bigger

commitment) as the nation's Latin secretary,

which means that he would compose and translate all of

England's correspondence with the governments on the continent

into and from Latin. Up until this period,

the early 1650s, Milton was a devoted

contributor to the ideal Puritan notion of this government,

and it was really the height of his political idealism.Fast

forward a few more years. By the end of this decade,

by the end of the 1650s, Milton could see,

as could others, fairly clearly that what we can

think of as the imminent collapse of the republican

government. The majority of Englishmen were

calling for the return of their nation's rightful monarch.

It wasn't long before the revolution failed and the Stuart

monarchy was restored. The son of the executed king,

who had been in exile in France, was returned to the

throne in England; and so at the Restoration -- as

it's called, the restoration which took place in 1660 -- the

Puritan revolutionaries, the revolutionaries like Milton

who had devoted their labors to the success of this utopian

ideal of the Puritan commonwealth,

experienced a humiliating and bitter defeat.

A lot of Milton's friends, a lot of Milton's comrades,

were hanged and quartered. Milton himself was jailed and

jailed for having written the regicide treatises,

we have to assume, and it seems to have been

solely the influence of some important friends that kept

Milton from being held in prison indefinitely.

It's entirely imaginable that Milton could have been executed

for his writings on behalf of the killing of King

Charles.So it's at this point -- this is after the

revolution has failed that Milton begins to write his epic

poem: it's at this point that Milton chooses to write an epic,

not on a nationalist theme as Virgil had done or as Spenser

had done. There was simply no nation

worth writing about. All of Milton's labors in the

cause of liberating England from the tyranny of monarchy had in

some way -- could be construed as having been useless.

All of Milton's expectations that England might actually be

transformed, and they were glorious expectations,

into something like a Puritan utopia or even a Puritan

paradise -- all of that had been destroyed.

It's at this point that Milton chose for the subject of his

epic poem the subject of the tragedy that he'd been

contemplating for so many years. The epic was going to treat the

Fall, the Fall of Adam and Eve from their blissful state in

Eden, but also the fall of the rebel

angels after their failed revolution.

There's a continual analogy running through Paradise

Lost, and it's a very troubling one,

that associates the paradise that man lost with the utopian

government that England lost. Of course, perhaps even more

troubling is the satanic parallel as well.

You'll want to think about why Milton seems so aggressively to

invite the association of the failure of the just revolution

of the Puritans, and of course that's how he

would see it, with the failure of the unjust

revolution of the rebel angels under the guidance of

Satan.Milton began writing his epic poem too late to

celebrate a virtuous political realm.

It's too late for this to be a political poem,

but Paradise Lost is late for all sorts of reasons.

It's late for some personal reasons as well.

Milton had been, as you know,

anticipating writing this poem since he was at least nineteen

years old. He didn't even begin to fulfill

what we can think of as his epic promise until he was nearly

fifty years old, until he had actually lost the

use of his eyes, until he could no longer read,

and until he could no longer use a pen to write.

Finally, Milton's poem is late by virtue of the simple fact

that it's written in the form of an epic.

An epic might have seemed [laughs]

like a great idea when Milton was nineteen,

but by the time Milton gets actually around to writing it,

it's an entirely superannuated, utterly outdated form.

There's, of course, the undeniable fact that the

greatest epics, The Iliad,

The Odyssey, and then The Aeneid,

were all written in a heroic literary past that would

have struck anybody as irrecoverable;

but even the modern practice of epic writing,

or romance epic writing, had basically entirely fizzled

out by the end of the sixteenth century,

when the Italians I'm thinking of, Tasso and Ariosto,

were writing. There had been a half century

that had passed since any great modern epic or romance epic had

even been produced. There would have been a

prevailing sense, and Milton has to have been

sensitive to this, that it was simply too late to

write an epic of any kind on any subject.

Milton began his epic poem late.It's in relation to all

of these forms of lateness that we can best understand the

opening invocation of Paradise Lost.

So look at the first lines of the poem.

This is page 211 in the Hughes.

Harold Bloom has written, and I think he's absolutely

right, that Milton begins Paradise Lost with a

powerful defense against lateness.

You can think of it as this reaction to the problem of

lateness that accounts for one of the invocation's most

distinctive features, and that's the repetition of

the word "first." You actually have the word

"first" appearing six times in the first thirty-three lines of

Paradise Lost. We'll do a little catalog of

them: "Of Man's First Disobedience and the Fruit" --

that was line one, of course.

Line eight: "That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen

Seed..." Line nineteen:

"Thou from the first / wast present…"

Go down to line twenty-seven: "Say first, for Heav'n hides

nothing from thy view." Line twenty-eight:

"say first what cause." And line thirty-three:

"Who first seduc'd them to that foul revolt?"

Milton is alerting us to the significance of the word "first"

in the very first line, in this wonderful act of

violating the laws of iambic pentameter.Now the rhythm of

a true line of iambic pentameter -- and there are,

of course, hundreds, maybe thousands of such lines

in this poem -- a true line of iambic pentameter would run like

this. You know this:

"da-DA-da-DA-da- DA-da-DA-da-DA," an unaccented

syllable followed by an accented syllable, and that little

pattern repeated five times. With this iambic template in

mind, with this little paradigm in our head, we may feel

metrically constrained to read the first line of this poem like

this: "Of Man's First Disobedience,

and the Fruit" -- "da-DA-da-DA-da-DA..."

It sounds stupid. It should sound stupid.

It's impossible to get away with such an awkward reading,

but that's the reading that the metrical form is pushing us into

producing. The problem with my awkward,

metrically proper reading of that first line is that the word

"first" insists on being accented,

and it screws up the template: "Of man's first

disobedience, and the fruit,"

and so Milton is rebelling against an implicit law of

poetic meter in the very first line of what,

of course, we know will be this extraordinarily self-conscious

poem. You could think of this as the

poem's first -- by no means its last -- its first act of poetic

disobedience.Now the word "first" begins to take on a much

bigger range of significances than we might at first think.

When Milton instructs his muse, "Say first, for Heav'n hides

nothing from thy view," there's something more here

than the primary sense of the word, which is just "first in

sequence." Milton, of course,

is instructing the muse to explain first,

before she gets around to explaining anything else,

what caused Adam and Eve to fall.

That's just the simple sequential sense of "first," the

first that comes before second, third and fourth;

but there's something more radical here than the ordinal or

sequential sense of "first." "First" can also mean

"earliest": Milton's describing his muse now,

at the present moment of the writing of the poem,

to be the first one perhaps ever to explain the cause of the

Fall, to be the first to tell the story of the loss of

paradise or, I don't know -- to be the first

poet ever to write an epic poem. Milton's constructing -- it's a

remarkable and impossible strategy here,

and it's one we can call a strategy of retrospective

anticipation and it's a type of

Of course, this retrospective anticipation can only be a

fiction. One can never come before

something that, of course, has already

happened, but this fiction of an impossible firstness is

something that Milton is working very hard to accomplish

here.We know this. Milton has already indulged

this fantasy of coming before something that's already

happened. We recognize this desire to

anticipate an already existing narrative, from what?

From Milton's first major poem, the Nativity Ode.

Milton directed the heavenly muse in that poem,

you'll remember, to prevent -- to come before --

the three wise men who were hasting to the manger with their

gold and their frankincense and their myrrh: "O run,

prevent them with thy humble ode

/ have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet."

I suggest that we can hear echoes of that same youthful

competitiveness in Milton's first major poem in these

opening lines, in the beginning of the great

epic of Milton's maturity. Milton wants to write an epic

that in some ways comes before, or prevents,

the great epics of Homer and Virgil.

It's safe to say that this is no easy feat.As presumptuous

[laughs] as that desire is,

to come before Homer or to come before Virgil,

it's by no means the final sense,

I think, of Milton's ambitious drive to be first.

Milton invokes the same heavenly muse here who inspired

Moses, that shepherd. Look at line eight:

Moses, "that shepherd, who first taught the chosen

Seed." It's almost as if -- could this

be? It's almost as if Milton wants

to narrate the events of the Creation and the Fall with the

same kind of firstness that Moses did.

Milton would, of course, have assumed that it

was Moses who had written the first five books of the Bible,

the Pentateuch, and to prevent,

or come, before Moses is an act of prevention or anticipation

far more dangerous than mere literary competitiveness.

What's Milton doing here? We could see him as actually

vying with scripture. Implicit in this invocation is

a truly remarkable claim that this poem is the product of the

same divine authority that had informed and inspired the

writing of the Holy Bible. Sing Heav'nly 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 Heav'ns and Earth Rose out of Chaos:

Or if Sion Hill Delight thee more,

and Siloa's Brook that flow'd Fast by the Oracle of

God; I thence Invoke thy aid to

my advent'rous Song... Now Milton doesn't want simply

to be an epic poet like Homer and Virgil.

That's -- no sweat with that one!

Milton wants to be a divine prophet like one of the great

Hebrew poets of the Old Testament.

This is why he's continually placing the imaginative origin

of the poem back to the very dawn of time,

perhaps even back before -- if you can imagine such a time --

before the very dawn of time. Milton wants to create the

illusion that he's predicting, or that he's prophesying,

the actions recounted in the poem, as if Milton were

prophesying what of course we know to be already past.

This is the strategy of retrospective

anticipation.Now Milton can make this implicit claim for a

prophecy because he's being inspired by none other than the

divine spirit that had inspired Moses to sing of divine

creation: "how the Heav'ns and Earth / rose out of Chaos" --

this is already an outrageous claim,

but Milton dares to go even further.

Not only is this the same muse who had inspired Moses to write

about the Creation, this heavenly spirit was

actually present at the moment of creation.

Look at line seventeen: And chiefly Thou O

Spirit, that dost prefer Before all Temples th' upright

heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know'st;

Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings

outspread Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss

And mad'st it pregnant

Of all of the appearances of the word "first" in these

opening lines, this is the "first" that has to

bear the most weight. The spirit to whom Milton is

praying was the actual vehicle through which God created the

universe. This is the spirit through whom

God fashioned the world out of chaos.

This is the spirit that Moses says, in the first Book of

Genesis, that moved upon the face of the waters at the time

of creation. Milton goes beyond the image of

this creation, this creative power provided

for us by the King James translation of the Bible or by

any English translation of the Bible in Milton's time.

He looks back even further. Milton goes back to the Latin

version of the Bible which translates the Hebrew word for

moved as incubabat.

That's Jerome's translation. Incubate is the strange

Latin word, and it's a verb -- of course, as we know -- it's a

verb typically used with relation not to spirits but to

gestating birds, and it literally means "to

brood." To incubate means to

brood or to sit on one's eggs until they hatch.

And so Milton's Holy Spirit, the creative force behind the

entire universe, actually sat brooding on the

vast abyss, sitting on the waters of chaos

just as a mother dove might sit on her eggs.Think of what

Milton's asking us of here. He's asking a lot.

He's asking us to imagine God, or perhaps this is God's

creative spirit, as some sort of feminine being

laying the universal egg and brooding over it until it bursts

forth with new life. This is a risk.

Milton's treading an extraordinarily fine line

between the tremendous beauty of this image,

on the one hand, and its potential impiety or

just grotesquery on the other. No sooner has Milton conjured

this already unbelievable image of a kind of maternal creation

than he reverses all of the gendered categories that he's

just established. He adds to this image that is

perfectly, sufficiently filled with grotesquery as it is -- he

adds this next phrase: "and mad'st it pregnant."

How do we even begin to appreciate this amazing imagery

here? In portraying the deity,

I would think, if I were to write an epic poem

-- I would feel that I would be expected to stay within the

fairly narrow parameters of religious decorum.

Milton had no precedent for this.

There's no precedent for this depiction of a god or a holy

spirit as a kind of hermaphroditic being.

I think it's safe to say that we're intended to be shocked,

maybe even repulsed, by this remarkable description

of the deity; and so I'm hoping you feel

something of a shock of these lines, "and mad'st it pregnant."

Milton is taking a huge aesthetic risk here.Whatever

you're reading, it's always worth thinking

about and considering what the motives might be for such

extraordinary literary risk taking.

This image of the curious process by which the heavenly

spirit creates the universe is absolutely central to this poem,

and it's central to the poem for two reasons.

It's central to Milton's theological vision that will

soon establish itself throughout the poem,

and it's also, I think, central to his poetic

vision, his vision of what a poem is or should be.

This shocking image, this impossible-to-imagine

image of a brooding impregnation,

establishes the foundation for two of this poem's most daring

elements. The first is the radical

theology, and the second is this poem's equally radical and

equally daring original verse form.Let's take the first

thing first, the radical theology.

I'm only able to talk about a small component of Milton's

theological daring here. It's with this image of a

brooding impregnation that Milton announces the presence in

his poem of his most potent, what I think is the most

interesting, theological innovation that he comes up with

here. It seems to be the case that

Milton rather late in his life has become a monist.

He embraces the heterodox idea of monism, sometimes called

animist materialism or vitalism, which is essentially a denial

of any distinction between the body and the soul.

The principle of monism had just introduced itself in

England around the mid-1640s, around, it's been argued,

the time that Milton's writing Areopagitica,

and it met with all sorts of opposition.

Orthodox scientists, orthodox Christians -- everyone

agreed in the seventeenth century that matter,

or substance or body, was entirely separate from and

distinct from the immaterial, the incorporeal,

stuff called spirit or soul. So orthodoxy is definitively

dualist. There are two types of stuff

[laughs]: immaterial stuff and matter or body;

but Milton insisted that there's no such thing as an

immaterial spirit, that that was a contradiction

in terms. Everything that we call soul or

spirit, even God himself, for John Milton is bodily.

Spirit is merely a kind of bodily form of energy,

and God at the beginning of time infused this energy into

the entirety of the material world at the Creation.So

physical life, physical matter,

for the mature Milton is never lifeless or dead.

All matter contains within it something like a "potency of

life"; that's Milton's phrase.

It has a capacity for action, actually a capacity for motion,

and, just as books can take on a life of their own in

Areopagitica, so all matter for later Milton.

Even what we think in our vulgar ways to be inanimate

objects -- even they seem to have within them something like

a potency, a potency of life or an

infusion of divine spirit. Of course, the human body is

the supreme example of the spiritually infused corporeal

substance. It's infused with divine spirit.

And this is a huge problem in the seventeenth century.

Milton's contemporaries were endlessly conjecturing where it

is exactly in the body that the soul resides.

Some of you may know that Descartes, the great French

philosopher and Milton's slightly older contemporary,

had decided that the soul resided in the pineal gland of

the body, the soul managed [laughs]to govern the body from

this tiny, little place in the -- where is

the pineal gland? I think it's in your brain,

the back of your head. Thank you.

Keep that in mind.The soul for Milton though isn't distinct

from body. It is the body.

The soul infused its power throughout the entirety of the

bodily frame, and so body and soul in

Milton's incredibly moving, and I think really beautiful,

vision almost becomes indistinguishable.

All of this monistic philosophy, I think,

is implicit in the image of divinity's impregnation of the

vast abyss. Milton's God doesn't,

as we learn from Genesis, doesn't fashion the matter of

chaos with his hands. He impregnates it with spirit,

and he gives it a potency of life.

As you'll see in Book Seven, the book of the Creation,

he gives it a liberty to organize itself into the order

of the created world -- a freedom to create itself.

That's one consequence of Milton's image of a brooding

impregnation.There's a second type of potency that's

also established in with this image,

and that's the potency of the kind of verse that Milton is

writing in Paradise Lost. It's been argued,

and I think there's something to this, that Milton's monism is

closely connected to his implicit theory of poetry.

There's no question that the shock experienced by the first

readers of Paradise Lost had next to nothing to do with

the content of this poem, which might strike us as

shocking in itself. We would think that Milton's

contemporaries might be aghast that such a sympathetic portrait

of Satan could be used at the beginning of the poem.

No, the most immediately shocking aspect of the poem was

its style, and we have to look at the actual poetic form by

which this poem is constructed because the poetic form is

absolutely integral to its meaning.

If you're not taking notes in this lecture,

you have to write down at least one sentence.

You must write this down because this will be the most

important thing I say all morning: Milton's Paradise

Lost is the first narrative poem in English that didn't

rhyme.Milton wrote his epic in lines of unrhymed iambic

pentameter or what we call, and what Milton would have

called, blank verse. Up to this point in literary

history, only verse written for the theater had been written in

unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter, in blank verse.

This is the verse form, you'll recognize it,

in so many of the long speeches of characters in the plays of

Marlowe and of Shakespeare. Those are plays though,

and all English narrative poems, including all of

Shakespeare's narrative poems, they had all been written in

rhyme, either long verse paragraphs of rhymed heroic

couplets or in intricately rhymed stanzas.

For most readers in Milton's time, rhyme was actually

constitutive of poetry, and Milton's lines of unrhymed

verse here may well have not seemed poetry at all.

It was shocking.There seems to have been something of a kind

of outcry about the style of Paradise Lost.

Look at page 210 in the Hughes. It's in response

to what seems to have been an aesthetic reaction to the poem

that the printer of Paradise Lost asked Milton,

went back to Milton and asked him to append a note to the

book's second printing -- to append a note that explains why

the poem rhymes not. People can't deal with this

poem until they [laughs]can get a handle on the fact that it

doesn't rhyme. So Milton writes this and adds

it, appends it, to all subsequent editions of

the poem. This is what Milton tells us:

The measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime,

as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin;

Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good

Verse, in longer Works especially,

but the Invention [and this is so familiarly Miltonic]

of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and

lame Meter; grac't indeed since by the use

of some famous modern Poets, [okay, Spenser might have done

it kind of well, the whole rhyme-thing,

but nonetheless, the modern poets are]

carried away by Custom, but much to their own vexation,

hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise,

and for the most part worse than they else would have

exprest them. Milton brings to his critique

of rhyme that same -- and this is familiar -- the same

political rhetoric that he had brought to his critique of

monarchy in the regicide treatises.

You can also hear Satan's critique of the tyranny of

heaven in this account of the rhyme as well.

Like kingship, rhyme is a custom.

It's an invention of a barbarous age which a blind and

ignorant population will accept only to its own vexation,

hindrance, and constraint. It's always Milton's duty --

this is the reason that he was put on this earth:

to liberate a people from any such constraining customs.

It's the rhetoric of liberation that -- this is the rhetoric

that permeates all of Milton's political prose.While Milton

decided against writing an explicitly political nationalist

poem, he did see himself as writing a

poem that performed some kind of political function.

It performed its revolutionary function in a much more subtle,

though, and a much more insinuating kind of way.

And so at the end of this note on the verse Milton claims that

Paradise Lost: …

is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English

[another important first], of ancient liberty recover'd to

Heroic Poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of

Riming. It's a wonderful metaphor.

It's as if Milton is thinking of the poem as if it were a

human body, and the rhyme words at the end of the typical heroic

couplet -- the two lines that rhyme at the end,

and then another two lines with a different rhyme at the end of

those two lines -- these lined rhymes of the poems by his

contemporaries, his competitors:

the rhyme words function as shackles.

I think that's the image here. They're manacles that confine

the otherwise vulnerable and tender flesh of the body of the

poem. Rhymes are barbarous forms of

constraint that impinge upon the true freedom of the body of the

poem. Milton explains here in the

middle of the note that's why other cultures have rejected

rhyme: …

as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears,

trivial and of no true musical delight;

which consists only [true musical delight consists only]

in apt Numbers, fit quantity of Syllables,

and the sense variously drawn out from one Verse into another,

not in the jingling sound of like endings...

So Milton refuses to force his poem to make sense through the

barbarous mechanics of rhyme, which for Milton reduces all of

the spirit, all of the life of a poem or of a line,

simply to that jingling sound at the end of the line.

And so in Milton's verse here, sense or meaning is variously

drawn out from one verse into another.

Sense, the very spirit of meaning, is infused throughout

an entire line rather than being singled out and separated or

segregated to the end of the line in the form of the rhyme

word.Sense in Milton's poetry functions a lot like soul

or spirit does in Milton's theology,

and so Milton's note on the verse clues us into this

intimate connection between his radical poetics of blank verse,

on the one hand, and his radical theology of

monism on the other. You can see from the handout

that I've given you -- I hope you can see from the handout

that I've given you a quotation here from Milton's Christian

Doctrine, yes, in which Milton describes

the process whereby God actually impregnates the human body with

soul: "Nor did God merely breathe that spirit into man,

but moulded it in each individual and infused it

throughout." The divine soul is everywhere

in the Miltonic body, the human body.

Of course, that means that all human acts are sanctioned by God

including -- maybe most importantly,

the sexual act is given the highest form of divine approval

imaginable. Milton wants us to think of the

sense of his verse as being similarly infused;

the poem is similarly infused throughout with some kind of

soul or spirit or divine energy throughout the entirety of a

verse paragraph.Milton refuses in Paradise Lost

to constrain a thought, or to confine it,

to a grammatical unit of sense. A grammatical unit of sense is

never identical to a line in Milton's poem.

Sense doesn't simply end at the end of a ten-syllable line.

Now most rhymed poems in Milton's day were end-stopped

lines of verse. An end-stopped line is one in

which the grammatical unit of sense stops precisely at the end

of the line. The next line of verse picks up

a different thought and the next one after that,

and so on. You can actually see the

mechanics of end-stopped verse quite clearly in the rhymed

version of Paradise Lost that,

admittedly, the great poet John Dryden wrote.

This was supposed to be the libretto for an opera.

Dryden seems to have gotten permission from the old,

blind poet Milton himself because Dryden felt that the

public had an interest in reading Paradise Lost but

they couldn't deal with the fact that it didn't rhyme;

so Dryden set out on this remarkable project of making the

whole thing rhyme, and I invite you to read

Dryden's efforts. They're really quite remarkable.

It's not unlike what the Turner Broadcasting Network does with

old movies, colorizing them in order to make them more

palatable to a modern audience.You'll notice that

every line of the passage from Dryden here concludes with a

comma or a period, because every line constitutes

its own syntactical unit of meaning.

Milton's poem -- this is a statistical fact,

I don't know who came up with it -- Milton's poem has far

fewer end-stopped lines than the verse of any other poet.

Milton's lines, we say, are enjambed:

they run in to one another, and a syntactical unit for

Milton is continually spilling out.

It's bursting out of the line and infusing itself into the

next line, and then into the next, and into the next.

I don't know who came up with this statistic but I love it:

nearly three out of every five lines in Paradise Lost

are enjambed -- they embrace the practice of enjambment.

The meaning or the sense of a verse paragraph is diffused

throughout a series of lines. I think that Milton intends for

us to think of the verse in Paradise Lost as he

wanted us to think of books in Areopagitica:

the lines of Milton's poetry are not absolutely dead things,

but they do contain within them a potency of life.So Milton

imagined that his own verse was to be read and experienced

something like a body. Of course, it's a body that

enjoys an extraordinary degree of freedom, and this is a

freedom that's infused into the Creation when the Holy Spirit

impregnates the vast abyss. This is also the freedom

enjoyed by surely, hands down, the most remarkable

of all of Milton's corporeal creatures, and those are the

angels. I imagine it sounds strange to

hear that Milton is asking us in some way to think of the lines

of his poetry as if they were the bodies of angels,

but the notion of corporeal freedom is so central to Milton

that it actually makes sense in some ways that Milton would want

to attribute it to all of the most original and the most

daring elements of his poem. This is an argument that's been

developed really quite brilliantly by a great Milton

critic, William Kerrigan.A lot of

Book One is given over, as you know,

to those magnificent catalogs of the names of the fallen

angels as Milton names the demons,

the fallen angels, and catalogs the names that

they assumed when they ascended to earth and took on the form of

pagan deities. Look at line 423 in Book One.

I'll bet you, even if you're reading this for

the second or the third time, you were surprised again when

you came to this point. Milton's been noting that some

of the pagan deities that the fallen angels eventually became

were male and some were female. It's here that Milton for no

[laughs] explicit, or no apparent,

reason at all -- it's here that he provides a little theoretical

digression on the stunning flexibility of angelic bodies.

In the context it is a little gratuitous.

Line 423: For Spirits when they

please Can either Sex assume, or both;

so soft And uncompounded is thir Essence pure, Not ti'd

or manacl'd with joint or limb, Nor founded on the brittle

strength of bones, Like cumbrous flesh;

but in what shape they choose, Dilated or

condens't, bright or obscure, Can execute thir

aery purposes, And works of love or

enmity fulfil. Clearly, the angels have bodies

here. They're made of matter just as

human beings are, but their bodies aren't

compounded of separable elements.

They don't have joints and limbs or organs or flesh.

They're nothing but a strangely embodied form of pure spirit,

corporeal spirit: a spirit that's been infused

through a loosely circumscribed shape.Now we learn later

that the fact that these spirits can "either Sex assume" actually

comes in rather handy, as the angels are permitted to

experience a form of sexual union that far exceeds the

miserable coition that creatures like us are forced to perform,

the coition "founded on the brittle strength of bones,"

Milton writes. Milton's angels in an act of

sexual union are fully smooshed together.

They are un-individuated, if that makes any sense,

in the act of sexual union. There is the unutterable sexual

rush that can only come about through total corporeal

enjambment.Now this little discussion that Milton's given

us here on the ambisexuality of his angels,

not unlike perhaps the ambisexuality of his God,

seems to have little to do with the discussion at hand of the

heathen deities, but I think it has everything

to do with Milton's understanding of his own verse,

which he has freed from the bondage of rhyming just as

angels are freed from the manacles of joints and limbs.

Milton's not only writing in a poetic style that he thinks is

politically motivated and ideologically motivated,

and he is doing that, but the style of Paradise

Lost is also powerfully eroticized for Milton.

In its amazing malleability of form, having dismissed the

manacle of rhyme, the poem is teeming with the

same kind of erotic energy -- this is,

I think, Milton's fantasy for the poem -- the same energies

that charge that image of books in Areopagitica.So

let's look at an example of how this might actually happen,

a way in which the verse actually seems to generate this

sensation of bodily freedom. Just look at the first line of

the poem: "Of Man's First Disobedience and the Fruit."

We think at first, because before we read this

poem we were so used to reading end-stopped lines of verse,

like the lines of verse that all of Milton's contemporaries

were disgorging -- we assume, I think, after the first line

that the line should be pronounced like this:

"Of Man's First Disobedience and the Fruit" -- and

implicitly, "of the fruit of the

Disobedience," as if the line was actually:

"Of Man's First Disobedience and its Fruit,"

meaning the fruit of the disobedience.

We read "fruit" naturally, here, as if it meant "result"

or "consequence." We don't find this out until we

get to the next line, that the "fruit" at the end of

the line is only a kind of temporary resting place.

It's a provisional ending. It's not a rhyme word,

and so it doesn't constitute the end of a unit of sense as a

rhyme word would in most heroic couplets.The sense of the

sentence pushes us on to the next line,

which alters our view of the meaning of the word "fruit:":

"Of Man's First Disobedience and the Fruit / of that

Forbidden Tree." The word isn't figurative.

It turns out to be literal, real fruit, and we realize now

that we've only partially understood the sense of the word

"fruit." The combination of our readerly

experience of these two lines -- first, the figurative reading

that comes from our habits of reading end-stopped verses,

and now the literal meaning of "fruit" that comes from this

newly acquired habit of reading enjambed lines -- it's the

experience of both of these cognitive sensations that

provides us with a true signifying experience of what

Milton can do with a word like "fruit,"

which is obviously going to be a loaded one in the

poem.Look at another instance of the malleability of

this verse a few lines down: …

[the heavenly spirit that] didst inspire That

Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,

In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth Rose out

of Chaos... Now at first,

I think Milton seems to mean that the shepherd,

Moses, inspired by the muse, first taught the Israelites how

the heavens and earth rose out of chaos in the beginning.

It was Moses who came up with this phrase, Milton thought,

"in the beginning." Those are the first words of

the Book of Genesis; but Milton has clearly placed

this little phrase, this adverbial phrase "in the

Beginning," in an awkward place. He frees himself -- this is an

insight that William Kerrigan has also had -- he frees himself

from the strictures of conventional syntax,

and he places that phrase "in the Beginning" at the beginning

of the line, very strangely and very awkwardly before the "how":

"in the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth."

He's done this because he wants to permit this phrase to do more

than simply modify the verb "rose."

We can also see in this phrase "in the Beginning" -- we can see

it applying to the end of the preceding clause,

"That Shepherd who first taught the chosen Seed / in the

Beginning." "In the Beginning" can modify

the verb "taught" as easily as it can the verb "rose."

It can either verb assume, just as Milton's angels can

"either Sex assume."There's an important point,

I think, that's being made with this second possibility.

Milton needs to imagine the narrative of the Creation as if

the narration itself were taking place in the beginning,

as if poetic creation could be a first in the same radical way

that the creation of entire universe is obviously a first.

This is a strategy called double syntax,

the notion that "in the Beginning" can modify one verb

or the other. It's just this kind of

rhetorical trick that Milton uses -- so many rhetorical

tricks like this that Milton will use throughout the poem --

that led Dr. Johnson to say in utter

exasperation, but admiration,

that "Milton wrote no language": this isn't English

[laughs] that Milton is writing

here.Milton's language doesn't have the same kind of

headlong rush that most declarative English sentences

have. We're continually being

prevented from reading the text to get to the end.

We're prevented from rushing to the end of the sentence,

or to the end of the poem, because at least as far as the

-- well, you can understand why. As far as the plot goes,

we know how it's going to end. We know, of course,

that Adam and Eve are going to eat the stupid fruit;

but Milton is developing a style -- and he's working really

hard to do this -- that works to resist our drive to get to the

end of the story. It's through a mechanism of an

entirely new kind of verse that Milton weaves into the metrical

fabric of the poem, a new perspective on that old

theological problem of human free will and divine

foreknowledge. Can it be said that we actually

chose to sin or to eat the apple if God had known all along how

the story would end, or that we would do this thing

in the first place? That's the conundrum that on

some level we've all confronted and has been confronted since

time began; but Milton knows that if this

poem is going to be successful, we cannot as readers be

permitted to think the story had to be what it was.

We can't be permitted to think that the story had to turn out

the way it did. We need to think that the

actions in the story were in some way free and absolutely,

perfectly undetermined. We need to get at the story of

the Fall from the perspective of its beginning rather than from

the perspective of its ending.And so Milton infuses

this angelic freedom, and he infuses this bodily

liberty, into the actual body of the verse itself,

of course, to make a point. He's incorporating his style,

a radical, original style, into the essential argument of

the poem. He permits his own

unconstrained indulgence in poetic enjambment.

He permits enjambment to become the verbal medium.

This is the pulsating vehicle for his precious theology of

free will and for his politics of liberty.Okay.

That's the end. I want to remind you a final

time to look at your Spenser, the cave of Mammon episode,

as well as Dr.

The Description of 9. Paradise Lost, Book I