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1-55. Observe that this noble passage, besides being a pathetic lyric on Milton's own blindness, is also an apt introduction to the part of the Epic now reached. Hitherto the story has been down in Hell and Chaos; but now it rises into the abodes of Light, and the poet, delayed a moment by the novelty of the blaze, apostrophizes the new element.
7, 8. "Or hear'st thou rather pure Ethereal stream," etc.: i.e. "Or dost thou prefer to be called the pure Ethereal stream," etc., this use of hear being a Latinism. 25, 26. " drop serene... or dim suffusion" two phrases from the medical science of Milton's day. Gutta serena, literally drop serene," was that form of total blindness which left the eyes perfectly clear and without speck or blemish. Such was Milton's (see Sonnet XXII.).
35, 36. "blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides, and Tiresias and Phineus." Thamyris or Thamyras was a mythical poet and musician of Thrace, mentioned by Homer; Mæonides is Homer himself, reputed the son of Mæon. Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, is a great character in the legends and dramas of the Greeks; Phineus, a blind king and prophet, is made by some a Thracian, by others an Arcadian.
38, 39. "the wakeful bird [the nightingale] sings darkling." In Shakespeare (Lear, I. iv.) we have-"So out went the candle, and we were left darkling."
84. "interrupt": the past participle passive (interruptus), "thrown ruggedly between."
168-170. "O Son," etc. All the names for Christ here introduced are, as Bishop Newton points out, Scriptural: see Matt. iii. 17; John i. 18; Rev. xix. 13; 1 Cor. i. 24. 217. "all the Heavenly Quire stood mute.' It is noted here, by Bishop Newton, as more than a coincidence, that so the Fallen Angels had "sat mute" in Hell, when the mission was proposed which Satan alone undertook (see Book II. 417 et seq.).
247-265." Thou wilt not," etc. Various Scriptural texts are embodied in this passage,—such as Psalm xvi. 10, Acts ii. 20, 1 Cor. xv. 55, Psalm lxviii. 18, Coloss. ii. 15, I Cor. xv. 26.
317-343. "All power I give thee," etc. Another metrical coagulation of Scriptural texts. See Matt. xxviii. 18; Eph. i. 20; Phil. ii. 9; 1 Thess. iv. 16; Matt. xxiv. 30, 31; Rev. xx. II; I Cor. xv. 51; 2 Pet. iii. 12, 13; Rev. xxi. I; I Cor. xv. 24-28; Psalm xcvii. 7; John v. 23. It is worthy of remark that Milton, in these speeches of the Father and the Son, should have been thus careful to suppress his own invention absolutely, and to keep close to the words of the Bible. This speech is tinged with many
texts besides those here cited.
353. "Immortal amarant." Amarant, which in Greek means “unfading," is the name given by Pliny to a purple flower, real or imaginary, described as preserving its bloom long after being plucked.
362-364. "Now in loose garlands. smiled." The construction seems to be, "The bright pavement that shone like a sea of jasper" (i.e. of different colours, with green predominant)" smiled impurpled with celestial roses" (the red among the forementioned flowers), "now thrown off thick in loose garlands."
372-415. "Thee, Father," etc. These forty-four lines represent the choral hymn of the Angels, in honour first of the Father, and then of the Son. Among the texts of Scripture fused into the language the commentators have noted Isaiah vi. 2; Col. i. 15, 16; Rev. iv. 14; Heb. i. 3; John i. 9; Micah v. 15.
383. "Thee next they sang." Here Milton uses what is now the ordinary conjugation of the verb-sing, sang, sung. But, in general, he makes sung the preterite tense, as well as the past participle; and there is an instance only eleven lines back (line 372), “Thee, Father, first they sung.”
413-415. "my song. my harp," etc. These expressions suggest that, though the passage which they conclude (lines 372-415) may be read as Milton's report of a choral hymn of the Angels, Milton himself joins the chorus.
418-422. "Meanwhile upon the firm opacous globe of this round World. Satan alighted walks." To understand this passage exactly, look first at the World or Cosmos as figured in the diagram in Introd. p. 33, and then at the enlarged representation of the same, with its interior filled up with the "luminous inferior Orbs," or Spheres of the preCopernican system, at p. 41. The "first convex," on
which Satan alights, is the outside shell of the whole World, resting or turning in Chaos. Fancy a globe of very opaque brown glass round a lamp, in a room otherwise dark, and a fly or moth drawn upwards to it by its dull glimmer and alighting upon it, and that will be a homely image of Satan's arrival upon the outside of the Cosmos.
427-429. "Save on that side," etc. The glimmering of light is greatest on the upper boss of the outside of the Cosmos, where it is nearest the Empyrean; and it was on this upper boss, it appears from the sequel, that Satan had alighted.
431-441. "As when a vulture," etc.
Milton's figure for the motions of the Fiend on the outside of the Universe is far more poetical than that just suggested. It may be explained thus :-"As when a vulture, bred on Imaus (the Himalayas, or 'snowy mountains'), leaving the remoter regions of Asia, makes for the Ganges or the Hydaspes (the Jhelum, one of the tributaries of the Indus) in search of prey, but on its way alights on the barren plains of Sericana (a tract of south-eastern Thibet and south-western China, inhabited by a people called by ancient geographers the Seres,' from whom came 'Sericum' or Silk), so the Fiend, coming from Hell and Chaos, and seeking admission into the Starry Universe which contains his prey, is kept lingering a while on its bleak exterior." Of the " cany waggons of the Chineses," made of light bamboo with sails and driven by the wind, Milton had read accounts in books. 444-497. "None yet; but store hereafter," etc. fifty-four lines are one of the most extraordinary passages of the poem.Though the bleak, windy, outside shell of the Cosmos was totally uninhabited when Satan alighted upon it, that was not to be long the case. For precisely this outside shell of the whole Cosmos, and not the Moon, as some had fancied, was to be the true Limbo of Vanities or Paradise of Fools, to which all the nonsense and vain enthusiasms of the Earth and of Man would tend, and whither they would infallibly arrive. And how would they reach that comfortless dwelling-ground? In explaining this, Milton gives a sketch by anticipation of the constitution of the Cosmos, according to his fancy of the old Astronomical System, thus --The only opening into the interior of the Cosmos, or outlet from it, is at its topmost point, where it
is hung from the Empyrean Heaven. There an orifice had been purposely left in its bounding shell. Now, as the Earth is at the centre of the Cosmos, whatever would reach the Empyrean Heaven from Earth must ascend straight to this polar orifice, passing through the ten enclosing Spheres in succession, the seven Planetary Spheres, the Sphere of the Fixed Stars, that ninth or Crystalline Sphere "whose balance weighs the trepidation talked" (i.e. accounts for "the precession of the equinoxes"), and finally the Primum Mobile, or "first moved" and outmost Sphere, itself (see the very exact enumeration of the Spheres in lines 481-483, and the more detailed account of the old Cosmology in the Introd. pp. 37-43). By this way the Spirits of the Just do ascend to Heaven's gate and enter the Eternal Mansions. But it fares otherwise with vain and erring enthusiasts, puffed up with their own aspirations, and seeking to get to Heaven on false pretences. Such were the Giants before the Flood (Gen. vi. I-4); such were the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gen. xi. I-9); such was Empedocles, the philosopher of Sicily, who threw himself into the crater of Ætna, that people, finding no trace of his body, might think he had been taken up as a God, but whose iron sandal, flung up from the crater, told the true tale; such was Cleombrotus, the Ambracian youth who was so ravished by Plato's discourse on the immortality of the soul that he drowned himself to realise his dream of Elysium; such, finally, were medieval Hermits, Pilgrims to the Holy Land, and Friars of all orders, Carmelite, Dominican, or Franciscan. All such vain pretenders may reach the orifice in the Primum Mobile, and even think they see St. Peter at Heaven's wicket, ready to admit them. But lo! at this point they find themselves seized by cross gusts of those winds of Chaos which blow round the Cosmos, and are whirled, right and left, they and all their trumpery, 66 over the backside of the World," into the Limbo prepared for them.——There are Limbos in other poets; but Milton's Limbo beats them all. A grim humour, or consciousness of the grotesque, runs through the conception.
498-539. "All this . . . till at last a gleam . . . turned thitherward... his travelled steps," etc. Here we have further circumstantials of the polar orifice described in the preceding note. The gleam of light having attracted Satan to the orifice, he sees Heaven's gates, with stairs up to
them like those in Jacob's dream (Gen. xxviii. 10-19); also, underneath these stairs, the sea of jasper or pearl (a segment of the Crystalline Sphere, as appears from the "Argument" prefixed to the Book); also the passage or shaft from the orifice, past this sea, straight down to the Earth. This passage was then wider far than that afterwards communicating between Heaven and Sion's specially holy ground, or even than that which once covered the Promised Land from Paneas (Dan) to Beersheba, when the whole of that region received Angelic visitants.
555-563. "Round he surveys," etc. This is the Fiend's first glimpse of the interior of the World he has come to ruin. From Heaven's stair he gazes down into the blue Universe with its rolling luminaries. He takes two glances, -one longitudinal, from the constellation Libra to the opposite point of the Celestial Equator, where Aries or the Ram seems to be bearing the constellation Andromeda westward; the other in the direction of latitude, or downwards from where he is standing, right through to the other pole. Almost in the act of the second glance he plunges in.
563-565. "winds with ease through the pure marble air his oblique way amongst innumerable stars." Satan's first plunge was perpendicular. This perpendicular plunge has carried him right through the World's "first region," i.e. to within the Ninth or Crystalline sphere; but now that he has got to the Eighth sphere, or firmament of the fixed stars, he flies obliquely-i.e. keeps in the arc of that spheredescending through the "marble" air (i.e. glistering air) towards the equator, but winding about among the stars, in case one of them should be his object. Though the Earth which he seeks is in the centre of the starry sphere, he does not yet know that.
571. "above them all," i.e. "more than any of the rest." 574-576. (" but up or down, by centre or eccentric, hard to tell, or longitude.") It would be "up or down" according as he had descended past the Sun's place or was still above it when he made for it; "by centre" would be by spiral motion round the centre; "by eccentric,” by spiral motion on one side of the centre; "by longitude," by motion east or west.
597. "to the twelve that shone in Aaron's breast-plate.” See Exod. xxviii. 17-20.