Hi all, as you know I am lazy and, genuinely, I’m quite busy today trying to figure out ways not to do this darn labor take-home exam, so we’ll look at the comments of our mystery medievalist, who saw fit to chime in on the pleasures of Milton–and, along the way, provide a plain language break-down of what was happening in that “sonnet.” -ed.
okay, so i didn’t have time to even read last week’s submission, and when i read this week’s i was intrigued and i went back and read last week’s. and since nobody responded to poor ol’ jm, i’ll submit this response, and if you think it’s worth sharing go ahead and send it out.
since i’ve started teaching the brit lit survey part I (which here at UNO gets not only english majors but also counts as a gen ed requirement so i’ve had prelaw, math, bio, philosophy, theatre, history, criminal justice, and just about any other major you can think of), i’ve discovered that ‘paradise lost’ is one of the big hits of every semester…apparently quite a remarkable feat given that somebody’s decided that it needs to be translated from english to english for the poor doltish students of this day and age to even begin to appreciate. now, matthew, you know that i’m not a poetry girl, and so i can’t spend a whole bunch of time talkin’ technically about the problematics of translating poetry, but i can say this: the whole bloody point of the ‘convoluted blank verse’ is, as you so ably point out, to invoke the elevated language of high epic as well as the word of the divinity, which is for believers (as milton most certainly was) the language of the bible. even the most obtuse ‘non-lit’ students become enthralled with milton’s ‘difficult’ use of language and get why he’s chosen to write his self-proclaimed greatest english epic ever in such a fashion.
but do they get what’s going on? abso-frickin-lutely. now, being an anglo-saxonist i am compelled to point out that milton is not the first poet to give us the sexy rock-star satan–that honor goes to the anonymous creator of the satan in the c. 10th century biblical epic ‘genesis b’ from the junius 11 manuscript. that said, the lines that you chose for last week’s monday verse are actually some of the students’ (and my) very favorites. first, satan flatters gabriel as being the most wise of god’s angels, and even says that he himself believed gabriel to be so. but then satan turns his flattery into insult by suggesting that gabriel’s question about ‘why leave hell?’ shows him to be, well, maybe not the shiniest halo in heaven after all. satan then quite reasonably explains that *anybody* with a bloody *clue* wants to put pain and suffering as far behind himself as possible. he finishes off his insult to gabriel by suggesting that satan now sees that he can’t really expect gabriel to see reason–or even have the mental capacity to be reasonable–because gabriel has never really thought for himself anyway: ‘who knowst only good but evil has not tri’d’ and voicing what would be gabriel’s obvious objection: that it’s god’s will that satan be in hell and one just shouldn’t go against god’s will. then, with a final flourish of hellish reason, satan declares that if god really wanted his will to be done and followed, then he should’ve put heavier locks on the doors since obviously if satan defied god’s will once, he surely will do so again. in other words, gabriel and god, are unthinking morons and no match for satan’s cunning and nefarious planning capabilities.
so then the question is, what are the flaws in satan’s logic? what’s he forgetting in his cleverly articulated insult? to answer those questions, though, the reader must think like a believer; and sometimes that can be difficult because the reader needs to read PL from within milton’s accepted view of the universe’s power hierarchy. that said, milton’s ability to render the obvious villain of this piece as smart, capable, and likeable because he’s such a snarky s.o.b. is obviously one of milton’s greatest achievements insofar as PL is meant to illuminate the readers’ own fissures regarding faith and their relationship with the proper hero of the piece, the tripartite god.
anyway, that’s what i think about last week’s selection.