תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

move about him. It is the Universe as conceived by the Middle Ages, the Ptolemaic Universe of which the centre was our earth. The earth was the centre surrounded by ten spheres, which, as they moved around it, gave forth heavenly music. First and nearest the earth was the sphere of the Moon, then that of Mercury, then of Venus, then of the Sun; then in order Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; then the firmament of fixed stars, then the crystalline sphere, and, finally, the sphere called the Primum Mobile, which formed the outer shell and protected the earth from Chaos. Down through the highest opening flies Satan, past all the spheres to the sun, where he deceives Uriel, the heavenly guardian, into telling him where further to go, and finally reaches this earth, where he alights on the top of Mount Niphates. Such is the Miltonic cosmology,-to a certain point clear, distinct, substantial.

To a certain degree does Milton furnish us with a definite conception, for to a certain degree a definite conception was a necessity. The poem deals with spiritual themes, it is true,—with the origin of evil; with the failure, for the time, of man's nature; with the estrangement of the soul from God, and its reconciliation. But being a poet, Milton deals with these themes as implicit in forms, in persons, and dealing with definite persons he must deal with definite places.

Yet there are not wanting hints which show us that the definiteness of this plan, so far as it goes, is merely the accident of the form. Hell, it is true, as we hear of it in the poem, is a fiery world,-yes, but the real Hell is in the mind. Escaped from the Hell that is merely a fiery place, Satan cannot escape from the Hell that he ever bears about with him.

" The Hell within him: for within him Hell

He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step, no more than from himself can fly
By change of place.” (iv. 20–24.)

Adam and Eve on losing Paradise are still possessed of “a Paradise within them, happier far.” And, as to Heaven, it is only to be conceived at all, says Raphael,

“By likening spiritual to corporeal forms
As
may express them best."

(v. 573, 574.)

IV. ON THE STYLE.

1. General Characteristics.

Dr. Johnson, in his “Lives of the Poets,” considers Milton's poetry, and finally makes the terribly candid remark: "Paradise Lost'is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure. We read Milton for instruction, retire harassed and overburdened, and look elsewhere for recreation; we desert our master, and seek for compan

ions."

As a poem

Now, such may certainly be the case with many who read Paradise Lost,” but if it is, they have missed the chief thing in the poem which is worth while. “ Paradise Lost” was meant to give, and can give, not instruction but pleasure,-a high-minded, ennobling, refining pleasure, it is true, but a pleasure for all that. So a person who regards it as a bore is unfortunate, as John

son was.

ure.

It is true that there are many minor reasons—especially nowadays—why “Paradise Lost” is not read with pleas

First we do not, on the whole, like its subject-matter, regarded as fiction, and we cannot regard it as history. In addition to this drawback is another not less effective. We are, nowadays, accustomed to a form of literature which in Milton's day practically did not exist, and which has for us a much more imperious attraction, to say the least, than has the epic. We are so accustomed to novel

reading that some of us can read nothing else. There is much also about the style which we do not care for. To one unfamiliar with the classics, the perpetual allusions to ancient mythology are trying. To one not habituated to the reading of poetry, the peculiarities of the epic style seem merely old-fashioned and tedious. 1

To most readers the classical turns of expression, the elliptical syntax, the occasional ruggedness of grammar present a bar. Of almost everybody the extremely closepacked character of the style demands constant attention, and, on the whole, the poem is not easy reading. These difficulties you must overcome, if you would really enjoy

Paradise Lost.'

The greater number of these difficulties will be overcome by particular studies and general cultivation. But there must be something more yet: not only must we cease to have the feeling of repugnance naturally called up by such difficulties as there may be; we must, in place of it, have

* As, for instance, the Invocations, i. 1-26, or vii. 1-39 (in Appendix, A); ôr such lines as i. 27, 376 ; or such locutions as dreaded name of Demogorgon ” (ii. 964), or “what resounds of Uther's son” (i. 579); or (to give it a little more than passing mention, for it is a point worth appreciating) the use of specific words in a general sense, or, more accurately, the use of specific words without regard to their specific meaning. Milton calls the lake of fire indifferently a lake (i. 280), a pool (i. 221), flood (i. 239), a gulf (i. 52), a sea (i. 300) ; but the five words have no real difference in meaning. So he calls Satan Commander (i. 358), General (i. 337), Emperor (i. 378), Sultan (i. 348), Chief (i. 523), but by the different words he presents no difference in idea. So we have in i. 104 “the plains of Heaven;" or, in i. 86, “the realms;” or, in i. 249, “ the fields; " or, in i. 321, “the vales." These expressions have neither power nor force. The reader of Milton's day probably regarded them as necessities of epic expression. Such expressions are not, however, excellent, although they may be of use in removing the diction from likeness with common speech. If the diction had no other striking qualities, this would be rather a defect; as it is, a certain dignity is added to the qualities otherwise possessed. To many readers, however, such expressions are merely colorless and stupid.

See notes to i. 573, 660. For instance, i. 191 ; ii. 377.

- The

the feeling of pleasure and the enjoyment of appreciating the things which make the poem one of the finest in the language, and of these things the chief is undoubtedly the style.

Certain things about the style are very clear, such points as have just been mentioned, for instance. These, however, are of course not the vital, the characteristic things, —they are minor matters, not the matters we want to get at. We want the essential qualities.

As to the essential qualities of Milton's style, everybody knows that they are greatness, grandeur, sublimity. But, unfortunately, these words do not do us any good, for we do not realize them. “ Milton is sublime” is a statement which, for most readers, has not very much more meaning than the statement “Milton is just elegant;" for the word sublime is not a word which for most people has much of any meaning. Like the words great and grand, it is too apt to be a mere vibration of the air which has no connection with thought. We get nowhere by such generalities: we must proceed in a different manner. We must attempt, by recognizing here and there in Milton's poetry things that seem essential, characteristic, to make real to ourselves the Miltonic quality which goes under these names which have so little meaning for us.

Some things are readily recognizable: for instance, some of the compressed sentences in the speeches:“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” (i. 263.)

“What though the field be lost? All is not lost." (i. 106.)

to be weak is miserable, Doing or suffering.” (i. 158.) A mind not to be changed by place or time.” (i. 253.) “ The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” (i. 255.) Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen.” (i. 330.)

These six quotations are picked out of a couple of hun. dred lines, but you can find others for yourself. They will strike you even at first; but after having them in mind awhile you will see that, although the particular temper which all six represent may not be especially admirable, they all show a feeling and an expression which are far above ordinary feeling and expression. Reading the rest of the speeches with these in your mind, you will begin to see what is one of the elements of Milton's greatness. Whatever be the feeling or the thought, even though it be despicable (as the meanness of Mammon, ii. 247), it will always be found to have a singular character which makes it impressive, and the expression of it makes the impact greater. The more you try to isolate the feeling which these Miltonic speeches give you, by comparing them with some of Shakespeare's great speeches, so full of the note of life, or some of Tennyson's in the “ Idylls of the King,” so full of romance, by so much the more will you begin to apprehend Milton's quality.

To take something else, let us look at some of his descriptions. Look at the description of Satan:

“ He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower." (i. 589-591.)

The whole passage will strike you as extremely forcible. Compare it with the description of Death (ii. 666-673), of Pandemonium (i. 722-730), of the Frozen Hell (ii. 587-595). In spite of a certain vagueness in each description, perhaps because of it, they all have a common force, -a force which can hardly fail to impress you, even though you cannot well describe your impressions. Consider the shorter descriptive pieces, such flashes as

“No light; but rather darkness visible" (i. 63); or,

“the parching air Burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire.” (ii. 594.)

« הקודםהמשך »