Friday, April 30, 2010

Paradise Lost - Book I

Lines 283-330

Recap: Last time Lucifer, now on land, threw around some heavy philosophy – he’d rather be king of the damned than a lowly servant, and Beelzebub once again played the role of brown-nosing second in command as he urged Lucifer to call together the rest of the fallen angels.

The first thing I wish to address in Stanza 10 (282-330)is the amazing imagery. Milton really goes all out in describing Lucifer as he prepares to call his brothers to gather, and it does not disappoint. As soon as Beelzebub finished speaking Lucifer is off and on a mission. First, we are treated to a wonderful description of Lucifer’s large, round, and shiny shield, which has been tempered by heavenly fire, and how the scenery reflects off of it. He has it slung across his back so that it is hanging off his shoulders, which in and of itself is a very regal and powerful image.

his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round, [ 285 ]
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, …..
the Tuscan Artist views
At Ev'ning from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new Lands, [ 290 ]
Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe

Amazing right? We get that it is a heavenly creation, its large – it has a “broad circumference”, round, and heavy (massy). Create the visual in your mind; imagine a metal shield so large that it looks like the moon. I like the description of how the land is reflected in the shield. The shield is twisting the imagery of the land, as it should because it is a convex and distorting the image (much like looking at the back of the spoon), into something so beautiful that it is compared to “Tuscan Artist views”.

The previous statement continues on to describe Lucifer’s spear, which is also described using epic proportions (much like the last few stanza’s where Lucifer’s body was said to be the size of a whale). Milton is creating an image of sublime size and otherworldliness.

His Spear, to equal which the tallest Pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the Mast
Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand,
He walkt with to support uneasie steps [ 295 ]
Over the burning Marle, not like those steps
On Heavens Azure…

Right away, we are given the size of the weapon – so tall; it is the size of the tallest Pine tree in Norway that was cut down to be the mast of a ship under a great or prolific Admiral. Only, it is not a mast at all – it is a spear, now doubling as a walking stick. This certainly shows how large the spear because we have an angel who is the size of a whale, with the moon on his back, using the tree-sized spear as support as he takes “uneasie steps”. I wonder if his steps are uneasy because he is unused to the atmosphere or land. The ground is described as “burning marle” (marle is mostly carbonate and clay mixed, and is similar to limestone), and his steps are “not like those steps/on Heavens Azure”. This makes me think that his uneasy steps reveal a slight lack of confidence, the first sign of such from Lucifer. He was sure-footed and confident while in Heaven, now however he is lacking belief in his own self.

Continuing on…
Nathless he so endur'd, till on the Beach
Of that inflamed Sea, he stood and call'd [ 300 ]
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans't
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th' Etrurian shades
High overarch't imbowr; or scatterd

Despite his uneasiness Lucifer continues to trudge forward – how many of us have done that before? He is standing on the beach of the Lake of Fire (inflamed Sea) when he calls to his followers. What a scene, there are so many fallen angels that they lay like autumnal leaves – a simile which creates the idea of stacks upon stacks of demonized forms laying around in misery, souls dead and their former beauty destroyed – or floating aimlessly like seaweed.

The idea of the angels like leaves is a good one – they were once vibrant and beautiful, full of hope – golden. Then, when the bitterness and ire rose and sadness set in (winter, if you will) they writhed and decayed from the inside out, slowly dying until they finally fell from heaven to hell. See, the beautiful golden leaf, once so strong, becomes brown and fragile, weak. It falls from the tree much like the angels fall from heave, until it rests in the dirt among its fallen brethren. Now they lay as shells of their former selves.

The book I am reading from makes a note at this point, which refers to my idea of angels as leaves. It says the term “Shades" leaves both positive (cool and pleasant) and negative (ghosts) impressions, complicated further by Vallambrosa's suggestion of a valley of shadows or shades. The suggestion of valley of shadows reminds me of “valley of the shadow of death”, aka the perils of life from which God protects us. Interesting, huh? I will allow you to make your own connections with this one.

Lucifer then calls out to the angels who lay fallen and deformed, “He call'd so loud, that all the hollow Deep/Of Hell resounded” – a very powerful image again, is it not? This further exemplifies Lucifer’s qualities as a leader. He has a voice that causes people to listen. So Lucifer calls out to them and gives a rousing speech, urging them to stir and shake off the gloom holding them down.

He asks them if they find it easy to lay around here, lazy, like it is heaven. Or do they object to those principles by which are still following– as this place is not like Heaven. He asks if they want the wrath of heaven, once they realize they are at an advantage, to reign down on them once more. Finally stating, “Awake, arise, or be for ever fall'n.” Get moving and stop moping around now or be prepared to hate life for eternity.

Next time : Lucifer and the gang begin their nasty work

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