Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Fun with Milton
4/13/11: Added some more stuff after third reading.
I decided to make a list of fun things and thoughts about Paradise Lost. Not that the whole thing isn't fun, but some parts are funnier (or more interesting) than others. We are keeping commonplace books, but it's possible that not everything in my notes will stay in the commonplace.
The Whole Poem
Milton only uses the word "providence" three times in the poem.
How many times does he use "orient"? It gets so old! I don't think I get too tired of any of his other oft repeated words and appellations ("vouchsafed," "general ancestor," etc.) but "orient" is used almost once per book. It really catches the ear if you listen to the poem, and not in a good way.
Milton's use of "thunder" in place of lightening. Thunder is sound. The word is sound. Thunder is the word? Whoa. Pretty cool, JM.
Satan never goes in a straight line. He bends, wheels, scours the edges of hell, etc. He also never looks back, literally or figuratively.
Satan sees one thing at a time, God sees everything at once.
Books I and II
God has intensely fresh breath. (l. 135-36)
We're supposed to think the demons are cowards because they don't offer to fly through Chaos (Book II), but the wimp angels don't volunteer for a suicide mission either. Only The Son takes that on.
God is so boring. What's Satan up to? (flip, flip, flip...)
Uriel is a little light on his feet. Even for an angel. He's got technicolor wings and sparkly locks and what not.
Satan is a voyeur.
Gabriel is kind of a jerk. First he tells Uriel "Nobody got in on my watch!" when obviously someone did. Then Gabe calls Satan a liar when Satan gives more than one excuse for why he fled hell. Of course he's going to make excuses. He's Satan, for Christ's sake!
"Myself am Hell" (l. 75). Great line. Put that one on your bathroom mirror!
"...into the fold" (l. 187). For some reason that combination of words is beautiful to me. He uses it twice within a few lines.
Satan turns into a cormorant (like a vulture) and perches on the Tree of Life (l. 194). Creepy stuff!
The circus of animals cavorting around in the garden is garish. I can't help getting that sick tickle in my stomach when I read lines like "the sportful herd" (l. 396). I think it even trumps "trip on the light fantastic toe" (L'Allegro) which actually doesn't bother me so much anymore. The scene gets even sicker when Satan starts turning into one, then another creature. I love animals, but I guess I always pictured Eden as a North American Paradise, with some nice fawns, bunnies, and robins and stuff. Elephants and tigers are too wacky.
Satan cusses for real: "Oh Hell!" (l. 358). He's not saying "O Hell," like "Hail Hell!" or "Hey there, Hell." He's really saying "OH HELL!" as in, "FUCK!"
Abdiel is pretty cool. He's supposed to be the "littlest angel," but he tells Lucifer he's about to meet his maker in a beautiful line (894-95): "Then who created thee lamenting learne, / When who can uncreate thee thou shalt know."
Michael is a kickass angel. I see why Gabe is his second.
The angels and soon-to-be-demons start hurling mountain tops at one another. If that wasn't funny enough, when The Son (Jesus) shows up, the mountain chunks scurry away, embarrassed, and resume their places on the hilltops. It reminds me of the Monty Python animation where the monk comes out of the tower and yells at the cavorting sun and cloud, and they amble over the horizon on their chunky legs.
The Son drives a chariot made of eyeballs. Flaming eyeballs. Word. (Word!)
Man. Old blindy is really starting to lose it in the invocation for this book. "Dangers compast round," worries of Orphic dismemberment. But who can blame him in that state? "Half yet remains unsung" (l. 21) at that point, and he had to finish. The invocation for this book is so long, and I think he had abandoned invocations after the first book. (He does use apostrophe a few times, as in talking to the poem itself or to the muses again, but not invoking them.) He sounds desperate. He needs to muster his strength, to get a second wind from the muses. His talk of dismemberment also make it seem almost like he knew the finished manuscript would be threatened by fire.
A note on the Orphic stuff: Until I took Milton, I had no idea that the word "remember" has an important connection to the myth of Orpheus. He was torn apart by Bacchus's followers, yet his head floated, still singing, down the river. This myth has a lot of significance for Milton and is all over his minor poems, but he actually lays off of it in PL, except for this mention. Anyway, to remember is to "re-member." To undo the tearing apart. This makes it a very different word from "recall." Something to add to the language arsenal!
Adam asks Raphael about angel sex. Seriously, he does. Raphael blushes "celestial rosie red" and describes the act briefly:
Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st
(And pure thou wert created) we enjoy
In eminence, and obstacle find none
Of membrane, joynt, or limb, exclusive barrs: [ 625 ]
Easier then Air with Air, if Spirits embrace,
Total they mix, Union of Pure with Pure
Desiring; nor restrain'd conveyance need
As Flesh to mix with Flesh, or Soul with Soul.
So I guess angel sex is like mixing up some Kool-Aid, or jumping into a blender.
Lots of stuff in this book. You should read it.
When Adam is trying to tell Eve that their fate is really not so bad, he says: "Pains onely in Child-bearing were foretold, / And bringing forth, soon recompenc't with joy" (ll. 1051-52). Pains ONLY in childbirth Eve! No big deal! While he's right that these pains are made worth it by a mother's love, he can't imagine all the other pains that would be heaped upon Eve because of her poor, sensitive uterus. I wrote on "Eve's Labor Pains" last year, and I think I might revisit the topic now that I'm better versed in my PL.
Books XI and XII
I'll come back to these, as I haven't listened to them on tape or reread them yet, and therefore don't have any good or interesting notes.
This poem is great. I thought my Milton crush might wear off by now, with only five weeks of classes left, but I think I'm going to become a Miltonist.