תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

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 favored ball at the centre whereon those two human creatures walked. Now the person of the epic, through the narration of whose acts this connection 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 the 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. The upper of these two hemispheres of primeval Infinity is HEAVEN, or the EMPYREAN —a boundless unimaginable region of Light, Freedom, Happiness, and

* We give but one of Masson's diagrams, the last of his three. His first is simply a circle, with a diameter drawn horizontally through it. The second is the same circle, with its diameter, and with an antarctic region like the socalled “south frigid zone' of the geographies. – ED.

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, inınortal, 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 motions, 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 soliils, 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 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 crudle 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
My only Son, and on this holy hill
Him have anointeil, whom ye now behold
At my right hand. Your Head I him appoint,
And by myself have sworn to hin shall bow
All knees in Heaven, and shall confess him Lord.”

With joy and obedience is this decree received throughout the hierarcbies, 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. Horror-struck 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 condition of the Universe. At the bottom of what has hitherto been Chaos there is now marked out a kind of Antarctic region, 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 dungeon-like portion of space that the Fallen Angels are thrust. For nine days and nights they have been falling through Chaos, or rather being driven through Chaos by the Messiah's pursuing thunders, before they reach this new home destined for them (VI. 871). When they do reach it, the roof closes over them and shuts them in. Meanwhile the Messiah has returned into highest Heaven, and there is rejoicing over the expulsion of the damned.

For the moment, therefore, there are three divisions of Universal Space, — HEAVEN, Chaos, and HELL. Almost immediately, however, there is a fourth. Not only have the expelled Angels been nine clays and nights in falling through Chaos to reach Hell ; but after they have reached Hell and it has closed over them, they lie for another period of nine days and nights (I. 50-53) stupefied and bewildered in the fiery gulf. It is during this second nine days that there takes place a great event, which farther modifies the map of Infinitude. Long had there been talk in Heaven of a new race of beings to be created at some time by the Almighty, inferior in some respects to the Angels, but in the history of whom and of God's dealings with them there was to be a display of the divine power and love which even the Angels might contemplate with wonder.

The time for the creation of this new race of beings has now arriverl. Scarcely have the rebel Angels been enclosed in Hell, and Chaos has recovered from the turmoil of the descent of such a rout through its depths, when the Paternal Deity, addressing the Son, tells him that in order to repair the loss caused to Heaven, the predetermined creation of Man and of the World of Man shall now take effect. It is for the Son to execute the will of the Father. Straightway he goes forth on his creating errand. The everlasting gates of Heaven open wide to let him pass forth ; and, clothed with majesty, and accompanied with thousands of Seraphim and Cherubim, anxious to behold the great work to be done, he does pass forth — far into that very Chaos through which the Rebel Angels have so recently fallen, and which now intervenes between Heaven and Hell. At length he stays his fervid wheels, and, taking the golden compasses in his hands, centres one point of them where he stands and turns the other through the obscure profundity around (VII. 224-231). Thus are marked out, or cut out, through the body of Chaos, the limits of the new Universe of Man -- that Starry Universe which to us seems measureless and the same as Infinity itself, but which is really only a beautiful azure sphere or drop, insulated in Chaos, and hung at its topmost point or zenith from the Empyrean. But though the limits of the new experimental Creation are thus at once marked out, the completion of the Creation is a work of Six Days (VII. 242-550). On the last of these, to crown the work, the happy Earth receives its first human pair — the appointed lords of the entire new Creation, surveying it with newly-awakened gaze from the Paradise where they are placed, and where they have received the one sole command that is to try their allegiance. And so, resting from his labors, and beholding all that he had made, that it was good, the Messiah returned to his Father, reascending through the golden gates which were now just over the zenith of the new World, and were its point of suspension from the Empyrean Heaven ; and the Seventh Day or Sabbath was spent in songs of praise by all the Heavenly hosts over the finished work, and in contemplation of it as it hung beneath them,

kanother Heaven
From Heaven-gate not far, founded in view

On the clear hyaline.” And now, accordingly, this was the diagram of the Universal Infinitude:

« הקודםהמשך »