페이지 이미지

Scheme and Meaning of the Poem.

PARADISE LOST is an Epic. But it is not, like the Iliad or the Æneid, a national Epic; nor is it an epic after any other of the known types. It is an epic of the whole human species-an epic of our entire planet, or indeed of the entire astronomical universe. The title of the poem, though perhaps the best that could have been chosen, hardly indicates beforehand the full extent of the theme. Nor are the opening lines sufficiently descriptive of what is to follow. According to them, the song is to be

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.

This is a true description, for the whole story bears on this point. But it is the vast comprehension of the story, both in space and time, as leading to this point, that makes it unique among epics, and entitles Milton to speak of it as involving

Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

It is, in short, a poetical representation, on the authority of hints from the Book of Genesis and other parts of the Bible, of the historical connexion between Human Time and Aboriginal or Eternal Infinity, or between our created World and the immeasurable and inconceivable Universe of Pre-human Existence. So far as our World is concerned, the poem starts from that moment when our newly-created Earth, with all the newly-created starry depths about it, had as yet but two human beings upon it. These consequently are, on this side of the pre-supposed Infinite Eternity, the main persons of the epic. But we are carried back into this pre-supposed Infinite Eternity; and the grand purpose of the poem is to connect, by a stupendous imagination, certain events or courses of the inconceivable history that had been unfolding itself there with the first fortunes of that new azure World which is familiar to us, and more particularly with the first fortunes of that favoured ball at the centre whereon those two human creatures walked. Now the person of the epic through the narration of whose acts this connexion is established is Satan.. He, as all

critics have perceived, and in a wider sense than most of them have perceived, is the real hero of the poem. He and his actions are the link between that new World of Man the infancy of which we behold in the poem and that boundless antecedent Universe of Pre-human Existence which the poem assumes. For he was a

native of that pre-human universe—one of its greatest and most conspicuous natives; and what we follow in the poem, when its story is taken chronologically, is the life of this great being, from the time of his yet unimpaired primacy or archangelship among the Celestials, on to that time when, in pursuit of a scheme of revenge, he flings himself into the new experimental World, tries the strength of the new race at its fountain-head, and, by success in his attempt, vitiates Man's portion of space to his own nature and wins possession of it for a season. The attention of the reader is particularly requested to the following remarks and diagrams. The diagrams are not mere illustrations of what Milton may have conceived in his scheme of his poem. They are actually what he did conceive, and most tenaciously keep before his mind from first to last; and, unless they are thoroughly grasped, the poem will not be understood as a whole, and many particular portions of it will be misinterpreted.

Aboriginally, or in primeval Eternity, before the creation of our Earth or the Starry Universe to which it belongs, universal space is to be considered, according to the requisites of the poem, not as containing stars or starry systems at all, but as a sphere of infinite radius--the phrase is, of course, self-contradictory, but it is necessary-divided into two hemispheres, thus:



The Empyrean.


The upper of these two hemispheres of primeval Infinity is HEAVEN, OF THE EMPYREAN-a boundless, unimaginable region of Light, Freedom, Happiness, and Glory, in the midst whereof GOD, though omnipresent, has His immediate and visible dwelling. He is here surrounded by a vast population of beings, called "the Angels," or "Sons of God," who draw near to His throne in worship, derive thence their nurture and their delight, and yet live dispersed through all the ranges and recesses of the region, leading severally their mighty lives and performing the behests of Deity, but organized into companies, orders, and hierarchies. Milton is careful to explain that all that he says of Heaven is said symbolically, and in order to make conceivable by the human imagination what in its own nature is inconceivable; but, this being explained, he is bold enough in his use of terrestrial analogies. Round the immediate throne of Deity, indeed, there is kept a blazing mist of vagueness, which words are hardly permitted to pierce, though the Angels are represented as from time to time assembling within it, beholding the Divine Presence and hearing the Divine Voice. But Heaven at large, or portions of it, are figured as tracts of a celestial Earth, with plain, hill, and valley, whereon the myriads of the Sons of God expatiate, in their two orders of Seraphim and Cherubim, and in their descending ranks, as Archangels or Chiefs, Princes of various degrees, and individual Powers and Intelligences. Certain differences, however, are implied as distinguishing these Celestials from the subsequent race of Mankind. As they are of infinitely greater prowess, immortal, and of more purely spiritual nature, so their ways even of physical existence and action transcend all that is within human experience. Their forms are dilatable or contractible at pleasure; they move with incredible swiftness; and, as they are not subject to any law of gravitation, their motion, though ordinarily represented as horizontal over the Heavenly ground, may as well be vertical or in any other direction, and their aggregations need not, like those of men, be in squares, oblongs, or other plane figures, but may be in cubes, or other rectangular or oblique solids, or in spherical masses. These and various other particulars are to be kept in mind concerning Heaven and its pristine inhabitants. As respects the other half or hemisphere of

[blocks in formation]

the primeval Infinity, though it too is inconceivable in its nature, and has to be described by words which are at best symbolical, less needs be said. For it is CHAOS, or the Uninhabited—a huge, limitless ocean, abyss, or quagmire, of universal darkness and lifelessness, wherein are jumbled in blustering confusion the elements of all matter, or rather the crude embryons of all the elements, ere as yet they are distinguishable. There is no light there, nor properly Earth, Water, Air, or Fire, but only a vast pulp or welter of unformed matter, in which all these lie tempestuously intermixed. Though the presence of Deity is there potentially too, it is still, as it were, actually retracted thence, as from a realm unorganized and left to Night and Anarchy; nor do any of the Angels wing down into its repulsive obscurities. The crystal floor or wall of Heaven divides them from it; underneath which, and unvisited of light, save what may glimmer through upon its nearer strata, it howls and rages and stagnates eternally.

Such is, and has been, the constitution of the Universal Infinitude, from ages immemorial in the Angelic reckoning. But lo! at last a day in the annals of Heaven when the grand monotony of existence hitherto is disturbed and broken. On a day" such a day as Heaven's great year brings forth" (V. 582, 583)—all the Empyreal host of Angels, called by imperial summons from all the ends of Heaven, assemble innumerably before the throne of the Almighty; beside whom, imbosomed in bliss, sat the Divine Son. They had come to hear this divine decree :

"Hear, all ye Angels, Progeny of Light,

Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers,
Hear my decree which unrevoked shall stand!

This day I have begot whom I declare

[blocks in formation]

And by myself have sworn to him shall bow

All knees in Heaven, and shall confess him Lord."

With joy and obedience is this decree received throughout the hierarchies, save in one quarter. One of the first of the Archangels in Heaven, if not the very first-the coequal of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, if not their superior-is the Archangel

known afterwards (for his first name in Heaven is lost) as Satan or Lucifer. In him the effect of the decree is rage, envy, pride, the resolution to rebel. He conspires with his next subordinate, known afterwards as Beelzebub ; and there is formed by them that faction in Heaven which includes at length one third of the entire Heavenly host. Then ensue the wars in Heaven-Michael and the loyal Angels warring against Satan and the rebel Angels, so that for two days the Empyrean is in uproar. But on the third day the Messiah himself rides forth in his chariot of power, and armed with ten thousand thunders. Right on he drives, in his sole might, through the rebel ranks, till they are trampled and huddled, in one indiscriminate flock, incapable of resistance, before him and his fires. But his purpose is not utterly to destroy them, only to expel them from Heaven. Underneath their feet, accordingly, the crystal wall or floor of Heaven opens wide, rolling inwards, and disclosing a spacious gap into the dark Abyss or Chaos. Horrorstruck they start back; but worse urges them behind. Headlong they fling themselves down, eternal wrath burning after them, and driving them still down, down, through Chaos, to the place prepared for them.

The place prepared for them! Yes, for now there is a modification in the map of Universal Space to suit the changed conditions of the Universe. At the bottom of what has hitherto been Chaos there is now marked out a kind of Antarctic region,



The Empyrean.



distinct from the body of Chaos proper. This is HELL-a vast region of fire, sulphurous lake, plain, and mountain, and of all forms of fiery and icy torment. It is into this nethermost and dun

« 이전계속 »