from Paradise Lost (John Milton)

September 8, 2009

Eve addressing Adam:

     Adam, well may we labor still to dress
This garden, still to tend plant, herb and flow’r
Our pleasant task enjoined, but till more hands
Aid us, the work under our labor grows
Luxurious by restraint: what we by day
Lop overgrown or prune or prop or bind
One night or two with wanton growth derides,
Tending to wild. Thou therefore now advise
Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present:
Let us divide our labors…

(Book Nine, 205 – 214)

. . .

Satan, disguised as the serpent, addressing Eve:

But all that fair and good in thy divine
Semblance, and in thy beauty’s heavenly ray,
United I beheld; no fair to thine
Equivalent or second! which compelled
Me thus, though importune perhaps, to come
And gaze, and worship thee of right declared
Sovereign of creatures, universal dame!
     So talked the spirited sly Snake; and Eve,
Yet more amazed, unwary thus replied.
     Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The virtue of that fruit, in thee first proved:
But say, where grows the tree? from hence how far?
For many are the trees of God that grow
In Paradise, and various, yet unknown
To us; in such abundance lies our choice,
As leaves a greater store of fruit untouched,
Still hanging incorruptible, till men
Grow up to their provision, and more hands
Help to disburden Nature of her birth.
     To whom the wily Adder, blithe and glad:
Empress, the way is ready, and not long;
Beyond a row of myrtles, on a flat,
Fast by a fountain, one small thicket past
Of blowing myrrh and balm: if thou accept
My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.
     Lead then, said Eve…

(606 – 631)


Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine,
Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste,
Of virtue to make wise: What hinders then
To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?
     So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat!
Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe,
That all was lost…

(776 – 784)


Adam addressing Eve after their judgement has been pronounced:

But rise, let us no more contend, nor blame
Each other, blamed enough elsewhere, but strive
In offices of love how we may light’n
Each other’s burden in our share of woe
Since this day’s death denounced, if aught I see,
Will prove no sudden but a slow-paced evil,
A long day’s dying to augment our pain
And to our seed (O hapless seed!) derived.

(Book Ten, lines 959 – 965)


Milton’s supreme mastery, according to T.S. Eliot, is “his ability to give a perfect and unique pattern to every paragraph, such that the full beauty of the line is found in its context, and his ability to work in larger musical units than any other poet.” Not the line, but the breath. Which is evidenced here in these brief excerpts, all crucial passages of books Nine and Ten.

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