Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“Justify(ing) the ways of God to men” through striking language

Book 1 Lines 1-26 of Paradise Lost
“Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
Brought death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, Heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd who first taught the chosen seed
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of Chaos: or, if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed
Fast by the oracle of God, I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme
And chiefly thou, O spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples the upright heart and pure
Instruct me, for thou know’st; Thou from the first
Was present. And, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant; what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the highth of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to men”

            The loss of paradise is a disturbing and difficult topic to write about. Nonetheless, John Milton felt he had been inspired to write an epic about it. He begins Paradise Lost, by stating his purpose in an inspiring 26 lines.  Milton employs the use of allusion as well as different types of figurative language, diction, and a synecdoche to accomplish his purpose of relaying the gravity of and woes that came with loss of Eden (line 4) and to, “justify the ways of God to men” (line 26). Thus Milton revealed his attitude of utter disgust toward sin, man’s need for a savior and his superior ability to explain these realizations.
            To accomplish his mammoth task, Milton uses various forms of allusion to demonstrate the manner in which his epic is based off the Word of God, and therefore superior to previous epics.  In line 4, “one greater Man” is obviously referring to Christ, who will, “restore us” (line 5), but it has some hidden meaning too; this “greater man” also appears to be referring to the idea of one just and redeeming man in the midst of human turmoil we see throughout History, such as Moses. Milton uses this to show the reader he realizes the need for redemption and he also honors the biblical leaders. In lines 6-7 Milton mentions the “secret top(s)/Of Oreb,” and “of Sinai.” These biblical allusions to geographical mountains have special meaning to the Milton, just as they do the Christian reader, since Oreb is where God called Moses and Sinai is where he gave Moses the 10 commandments. Here Milton is demonstrating his attitude of superiority by saying the same Holy Spirit who came to Moses and inspired him take action as well as write parts of the Bible for the Israelites  or “chosen seed” (lines 8-9), inspired him to write this epic. This bold idea is echoed in Milton’s mention of Sion hill (line 10), an allusion to the biblical Zion Hill where Solomon’s temple was built, but more importantly a reference to the salvation the true savior would bring. In line 11, Siloa’s Brook could be referring to John 9:7, where Jesus tells the blind man to go wash in the pool of Siloam demonstrating yet again Milton’s understanding that all is not lost through this loss of paradise.  Lines 14-15 reveal Milton’s intentions to soar above all other poets and poems, by explaining that he and his “heavenly muse” are flying above the mount where the nine classical muses dwell, Aonian mount or mount Helicon.
            Milton uses striking instances of figurative language found in this passage of Paradise Lost to demonstrate his humble attitude. In a sort of backwards simile (line 21) Milton compares the “heavenly muse” or Holy Spirit to a dove. This is a wonderful comparison as even in the Bible the Holy Spirit is called a Dove. Milton is sure to remind the reader how “mighty” this muse or “dove” is (line 20), connoting the fact that his Muse is really the strong inspiration of this poem, not himself. Milton then turns to the use of metaphor to demonstrate how this “Dove-like” muse has “mads’t it pregnant” (line 22) meaning he has created the world, giving further evidence that this is indeed the Holy Spirit, and indeed higher than Milton.
            In the very first line of Paradise Lost we see Milton’s powerful, yet simple use of diction in play showing his sorrow and yet his ability to be adventurous in this dreary situation. The diction of the first line, “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit,” has several meanings. Man’s “first” disobedience implies that sadly this will not be man’s last defiant act. Next, a pun on the word fruit is introduced; as it means the literal fruit eaten by Adam and Eve, while also holding the meaning of the fruit or consequences of their actions. The use of the singular “woe” in line 3 instead of plural “woes” demonstrates the one massive sin that humanity commits against its God and Milton’s massive feeling of sorrow. In line 13, Milton’s adventurous attitude is revealed when he uses “adventurous song” to describe his epic. This shines a whole new light on humanity as well as Milton’s attitude towards it, the distressing adventure of the fall of mankind, the joyful adventure of mankind being redeemed, sin, love, death, hardships, paradise, and loss of paradise.
            The synecdoche in line 5, “Regain the blissful seat,” refers to Christ reigning in peace and harmony and holiness again. It alludes to the time when Christ will completely crush Satan and every knee will bow to him. For emphasis on Christ’s majesty, Milton simply uses “the blissful seat” to describe His reign, rather than actually using reign, or kingdom. Milton uses this synecdoche to reveal his attitude towards God’s sovereignty.
            Milton uses striking allusion, diction, metaphor, similes, and synecdoche to form his “great argument” (line 24). He attempts to “justify the ways of God to men”  (line 26) and makes the story of the loss of paradise a classic piece of poetry that people will read for generations. The seriousness of original sin cannot be overstated, and Milton shows this in his writing. His adventurous yet sorrowful and humble yet superior attitude define his writing. 

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