John Milton, Paradise Lost: II, 506-628.

The Stygian council thus dissolved and forth
In order came the grand infernal peers.
Midst came their mighty paramount and seemed
Alone th’Antagonist of Heav’n, nor less
Than Hell’s dread Emperor with pomp supreme
And God-like imitated state. Him round
A globe of fiery seraphim enclosed
With bright emblazonry and horrent arms.
Then of their session ended they bid cry
With trumpets’ regal sound the great result.
Towards the four winds four speedy cherubim
Put to their mouths the sounding alchemy
By herald’s voice explained. The hollow abyss
Heard far and wide and all the host of Hell
With deaf’ning shout returned them loud acclaim.
Thence more at ease their minds and somewhat raised
By false presumptuous hope the rangèd pow’rs
Disband and wand’ring each his several way
Pursues as inclination or sad choice
Leads him perplexed where he may likeliest find
Truce to his restless thoughts and entertain
The irksome hours till his great chief return.
Part on the plain or in the air sublime
Upon the wing or in swift race contend
As at th’Olympian games or Pythian fields.
Part curb their fiery steeds or shun the goal
With rapid wheels or fronted brígades form,
As when to warn proud cities war appears
Waged in the troubled sky and armies rush
To battle in the clouds. Before each van
Prick forth the airy knights and couch their spears
Till thickest legions close. With feats of arms
From either end of heav’n the welkin burns.
Others with vast Typhoean rage more fell
Rend up both rocks and hills and ride the air
In whirlwind: Hell scarce holds the wild uproar.
As when Alcides from Oechalia crowned
With conquest felt th’envenomed robe and tore
Through pain up by the roots Thessalian pines,
And Lichas from the top of Oeta threw
Into th’Euboic Sea. Others more mild,
Retreated in a silent valley, sing
With notes angelical to many a harp
Their own heroic deeds and hapless fall
By doom of battle and complain that fate
Free virtue should enthrall to force or chance.
Their song was partial but the harmony
(What could it less when spirits immortal sing?)
Suspended Hell and took with ravishment
The thronging audience. In discourse more sweet
(For eloquence the soul, song charms the sense)
Others apart sat on a hill retired
In thoughts more elevate and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end in wand’ring mazes lost.
Of good and evil much they argued then,
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and apathy, and glory and shame:
Vain wisdom all and false philosophy!
Yet with a pleasing sorcery could charm
Pain for a while, or anguish, and excite
Fallacious hope or arm th’obdurèd breast
With stubborn patience as with triple steel.

Another part in squadrons and gross bands
On bold adventure to discover wide
That dismal world, if any clime perhaps
Might yield them easier habitation, bend
Four ways their flying march along the banks
Of four infernal rivers that disgorge
Into the burning lake their baleful streams:


Thus roving on
In cónfused march forlorn th’advent’rous bands
With shudd’ring horror pale and eyes aghast
Viewed first their lamentable lot and found
No rest. Through many a dark and dreary vale
They passed and many a region dolorous,
O’er many a frozen, many a fiery alp,
Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death,
A universe of death which God by curse
Created evil, for evil only good,
Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds
Perverse all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, inutt’rable, and worse
Than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived:
Gorgons and hydras and chimeras dire.


~ by ohkrapp on June 6, 2008.

9 Responses to “John Milton, Paradise Lost: II, 506-628.”

  1. This scene takes place after the leaders of Hell (Moloch, Belial and Mammon) have all given speeches weighing the fallen angels’ strategy. Another campaign against God? Resignation to their pitiful state in Hell? Beelzebub cites a rumor in Heaven of a distant new world where God has created life. They vote to sent a missionary to corrupt this new world (Earth). Satan, their fearless leader, volunteers to brave the abyss and find Earth.

    I’ve been reading Paradise Lost for months now and I’m still only halfway through. A single page can take ten minutes to read and appreciate. The Hell passages are riveting, but anything featuring God or The Son is so unbelievably boring you start sympathizing with the revolt. Who would want to live there? Generations of readers have pointed out that, whether or not it was part of Milton’s intent ‘to justify the ways of God to men‘, Satan and his followers are the vastly more arresting characters.

    I plan to write more about PL after I’ve finished it, but this passage (along with Satan’s voyage through chaos: ‘He spreads for flight and in the surging smoke / Uplifted spurns the ground‘) is the most memorable I’ve encountered so far. When I was child at a Catholic school, I had too many questions for my teachers’ patience. What did people do when they got to heaven? Did you still get tired and have to go to the bathroom? (Yes, here’s a picture of me in 2nd grade.)

    Here Milton describes what the angels do in their downtime (‘irksome hours’). Some play war games, others are furious and tear up rocks. Others sing, pontificate on their miserable lot, the meaning of it all. And others just fly around exploring. (‘Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death,‘ is one of the most famous lines from the poem for its economic, metric evocation of the monotony of Hell.)

    Of course, this all sounds reminiscent of how non-believers (like myself) spend their irksome hours on Earth. Perhaps that was the deeply religious Milton’s intent.

    I tried to annotate the poem with links. My favorite passage (along with the description of Satan’s ‘pomp supreme’) is this:

    Others apart sat on a hill retired
    In thoughts more elevate and reasoned high
    Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
    Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
    And found no end in wand’ring mazes lost.

    You have to read it while hearing the other angels harmonizing in the distance. Growing up with a Catholic school education, your impression of hell’s inhabitants is cartoonish (horns, tails). They’re actually just as intelligent, beautiful and thoughtful as Heaven’s angels, but they couldn’t abide by God’s supremacy. Angels with Dirty Faces, if you will. There are several passages in PL where they reminisce about the beauty of heaven, cursing their loss. They even consider asking forgiveness, but:

    With what eyes could we
    Stand in His presence humble and receive
    Strict laws imposed to celebrate His throne
    With warbled hymns and to His Godhead sing
    Forced hallelujahs while He lordly sits
    Our envied sov’reign and His altar breathes
    Ambrosial odors and ambrosial flowers,
    Our servile offerings? This must be our task
    In Heavn’n, this our delight. How wearisome
    Eternity so spent in worship paid
    To whom we hate!
    (II. 239-249)

    All punctuation here (Milton, a great student of Latin verse, had no need for punctuation; in Latin, thoughts, objects direct and indirect, are all clear from syntax and spelling) is taken from Gordon Teskey’s Norton Critical Edition.

    Norton Critical. Autodidacts: accept no substitutes.

  2. Also, I recommend reading it aloud if you can. It’s in iambic pentameter (like Shakespeare).

    the STY-gian COU-ncil THUS dis-SOLVED and FORTH
    in OR-der CAME the GRAND in-FER-nal PEERS

    a couple of the lines are tricky and there is isn’t one correct answer. for this line:

    Abominable, inutt’rable, and worse

    the editor of my edition suggests (somehow) saying ‘abominable,’ a five syllable word, as if it had three syllables? but that gives ‘inutt’rable’ one too many. i’d say:

    a-BOM-na-BULL in-UH-tra-BULL and WORSE

  3. Haha! You’re totally right about Milton’s God being a bore. I wonder if he knew that Satan would be so adored by centuries of readers… Literature is always in danger with omnipotence. The Marvel comic book universe was never the same after they introduced characters like Death and Eternity and The Living Tribunal. The reader (and the other characters) know that their actions are meaningless. I guess that’s why Milton’s Satan is such a monument. He defied the inevitable. Have you seen Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch? It has a similar Cassandra feeling.

  4. I’ve been reading “Paradise Lost” for about the last month or so and I think Milton might be the laziest practitioner of iambic pentameter I have ever read. I have a friend who, by virtue not of pompousness but of the intractable bray of OCD, translates everything he says into iambic pentameter – every single thing – and I’m just like, “If my friend can turn ‘I think I lost my yellow shirt again’ into such scrupulously observed meter, how the fuck do you think you can get away with making me somehow elide ‘merciful and sweet’ into three syllables?” I think a little praise is due the much-battered God, though, or at least his Son: his acceptance of the “rigid satisfaction,” starting on line 226 of Book Three, made me want to die for the sins of man too. I suppose it kind of reads as a bloated pronouncement, and little of the poem can be called anything close to subtle, but I just thought it was invigorating in a way little of the earlier parts, even the frighteningly charismatic and rousing vengeance of Satan, seemed to be. Maybe I’m a sucker for good old Christian goodness, the Jew that I am. Or maybe I’m just willing the God sections to be better than they actually are. “Account Me Man,” though: other than the Son of God, I think only Jean Gabin, Klaus Kinski, or a young Charlton Heston could get away with a line like that. Anyway, I hope all’s well.

  5. Teskey’s method of punctuating Milton leads to ungrammatical sentences at several points. His edition should be used with caution.

  6. is there a different edition you recommend?

  7. I’m From Ukraine, Paradise Lost is great poem and if some one can Help me to Find Film Paradise Lost which was made by this poem. My email:

  8. Barbra Kewalski has edited the original-spelling text recently.
    A Fowler’s annotated edition (Longman’s) is OK, and I think the previous editions of the Norton Critical Edition are OK.

  9. I like Taras’ idea of poems making films. Also, is Joseph O’Leary your father?

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