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Paradise Lost" Book-I: A Critical Appreciation

Introduction Paradise Lost (1665) is the great epic which Milton had been planning for years to write. During the years of political acti ity he had been loo!ing around for a suitable sub"ect and for a little while he e en toyed with the idea of writing on the #rthurian legend. $ut e entually he chose to write on a far greater sub"ect % the fall of #da& and ' e fro& (od)s grace and though the&* the fall of the hu&an race. +o other poe& but Paradise Lost contains such treasures of learning. ,he $ible* the ,al&ud* the church -athers % all ha e contributed to the outline of the story. ,he structure and tragic tone of the poe& are indebted to .o&er and /irgil. $ut e erywhere one will find transfigured for Milton)s own purposes a world of literary tradition* i.e. (ree! &ythology* the scriptures* 0 id* #riosto* ,asso* 1penser and &any 2enaissance writers in Italian* Latin* -rench and 'nglish. ,he reference* in Milton* to the lore of learning is not &ere decoration3 it is the ery tissue of his thin!ing. Li!e the creation of the uni erse which it celebrates* the poe& creates a world that is ti&eless and placeless3 it is the past* the present and the future. ,he&e of 4Paradise Lost4 ,he the&e of a literary wor! is a concept &ade concrete through its representation in character* action and i&agery. ,he sub"ect of Paradise Lost is Man)s disobedience and the

ensuing loss of Paradise on earth* but its the&e in the si&plest ter& is lo e. ,he central episode of 1atan)s re olt against (od and his defeat by the 1on is illu&inated as the origin of the difficulties which Man will e5perience (though not yet created) and as continuous ad&onition of 1atan)s defeat before* during* and at the end of &ortal ti&e. ,he thesis of Paradise Lost is that full recognition of 'ternal Pro idence will "ustify to &en the ways of (od towards &en6 4,hat* to height of this great argu&ent* I &ay assert 'ternal Pro idence* #nd "ustify the ways of (od to &en4 ,he "ustification of (od)s ways lies in the de&onstration that &an can learn the nature of (od only by !nowing the nature of e il* that he can rise only by first ha ing descended* and that obedience is the natural conse7uence of lo e. 1tructure of 4Paradise Lost4 ,he fable of this epic poe& can be read &ore or less in three distinct parts6 the rebellion of the angels and their struggle with (od ($oo!s I* II* III and the end of the greater part of $oo!s / and /I)3 the creation of &an!ind* the inter ention of the 1a iour3 and the state of &an)s e5istence (touched on in $oo!s I* I/* and part of /* /II and /III)3 the stratage& of 1atan against Man* the disobedience of #da&* and ' e* and their banish&ent fro& paradise ($oo!s I8 to 8II). ,he uni erse of 4Paradise Lost4

4' ery great wor! of art creates its own uni erse that obeys is own uni erse that obeys its own i&aginati e laws. #s we read on* or loo!* or listen* we co&e to learn what &ay be e5pected and what &ay not* what we can de&and and what we cannot or should not as!.4 ,his iew of .elen (ardner is ery sensible and we should agree with her that the uni erse of Paradise Lost is intensely dra&atic and filled with energies and wills. $ut besides ha ing an unprecedented concentration* Milton)s epic also has a wider scope in ti&e and space than any other epic poe&. It ranges fro& the height of .ea en to the depth of .ell. In .elen (ardner)s words6 4 Milton)s conception of his sub"ect is the source of what has always been regarded as one of the chief glories of Paradise Lost* its wealth of epic si&iles4. #nd to say that Milton)s world is lac!ing in sharp outlines is to co&pletely o erloo! the nature of his sub"ect as he concei ed it. Paradise Lost is the outco&e of a Puritan)s deep reflections on the $ible. #nd though Milton accepts the whole of biblical history as genuine and sacred* he ta!es great liberty in interpreting it. ,he outco&e is a ceaseless conflict between his faith and his te&pera&ent % a uni erse* with its wealth of epic si&iles which !eeps us char&ed all the way through. Milton)s 1tyle 4# 9ealth of 'pic 1i&iles) 4,he na&e of Milton4* says 2aleigh* 4is beco&e the &ar!* not of a biography* not of a the&e* but of a style* the &ost distinguished in our poetry.4 Milton)s is the language* says

Pattison* 4of one who li es in the co&panionship of the great and the wise of the past ti&e.4 It would not be wrong to say that the word 4subli&ity4 best describes Milton)s &ature style. ,he portrait of 1atan is $oo! I is an a&ple proof6% .e* abo e the rest In shape and gesture* proudly e&inent. 1tood li!e a tower* his for& had yet not lost #ll her original brightness* nor appeared Less than #rchangel ruined* and the e5cess* 0f glory obscured6 as when the sun new%risen Loo!s through the hori:ontal &isty air 1horn of his bea&s or fro& behind the &oon* In di& eclipse* disastrous twilight shades* 0n half the nations* and with fear of change Perple5es &onarchs I&ages of a tower* an #rchangel* the sun rising through &ists* or in an eclipse* the ruin of &onarchy* and the re olutions of !ingdo&s this crowd of great and confused i&ages affect us e5actly because they are crowded and confused. ,he i&ages used in poetry are always of this obscure !ind. .is re&oteness fro& co&&on speech is not a defect. #s ,illyard puts it6 4,he heightened style of Paradise Lost was so&ething de&anded of hi& as an epic poet a rigour against which there was no possible appeal.4 In fact Milton)s ast learning beca&e a part and parcel of his poetic sensibility. 1atan)s si:e and power is co&pared to 4that sea%beast Le iathan4. .e co&pares the ast nu&ber and confusion of the fallen angels too 4thic! as autu&nal lea es that strew the

broo!s in /allo&brose4. ,he truth is the Paradise Lost is resplendent with such epic si&iles. ;haracterisation in 4Paradise Lost4 ,he character of 1atan stri!es us as the &ost i&pressi e figure in Paradise Lost. ,he poet)s great achie e&ent lies not only in the portrayal of the &a"estic figure of $oo!s I and II but in the slow and steady degeneration of the 4arch fiend4 into a sli&y* deceitful serpent. ,he portrayal of 1atan in the first two $oo!s is such that a contro ersy has cropped up about the hero of this epic. Many critics ha e ta!en 1atan to be the hero. ,his &isinterpretation* perhaps* is due to the fact that such a iew is based on the reading of the first two boo!s only. In fact the hero is #da& % a tragic figure in &any ways. #da&)s character* though not as dyna&ic as 1atan)s is ne ertheless ery finely etched. #da&)s role is not that of a warrior (which 1atan is) but that of a (od fearing &an* faced with te&ptation and defeated in the conflict between hi&self and 1atan. $ut the defeat is not final. #da& regains the Paradise 4happier far4. ,here are so&e critics who feel* that either (od or the Messiah is the hero of this epic. ,his see&s to be an absurd thesis. +either (od nor the Messiah ta!es part in the central action of 4Paradise Lost4. It is true that #da& has a so&ewhat passi e role as well but the fact re&ains that the whole epic turns round )&an)s first disobedience). #da& disobeyed (od* and by this act of disobedience* he not only lost

Paradise but brought about the fall of the while hu&an race. +o action can be &ore tre&endous in its i&port and significance than that which brought the fall of the whole of hu&anity. #nd #da& being responsible for it* is ob ious &eant by the poet to fill the role of the hero of the great poe&. <lti&ately* #da& and his race co&e out triu&phant by the grace of (od and regain the lost Paradise. ;onclusion In the final analysis Milton)s Paradise Lost pro es to be a stupendous wor! of art which offers idea and conclusion for &an in all ages. Down the ages* all &en ha e been concerned with what see&s to be a discrepancy between a bene olent and o&nipotent (od and their own state of ill%war* fa&ine* disease and death. ,hough &any critics ha e stressed the analysis of e il which the poe& presents thereby producing the &a"or contro ersies o er the poe& it also analyses good* and it is by this idea of good that the see&ing discrepancy is annulled.