Paradise Lost, Book IV: Highlights

The crisped brooks, / Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold, / With mazy error under pendant shades / Ran nectar

Two things: the movement of the water and the environment through which it moves. To be honest, I just adore the phrase “pendant shades”. Milton mentions shade a lot, as opposed to shadow, which, I think, would point towards the thing making the shadow and therefore darkness and trepidation. Shade is relief from excessive light and heat, like ‘umbra’ in Latin – shade, shadow, ghost – which comes to make ‘umbrella’, a shelter from the elements. Milton links shade with innocence – protection from knowing ill – and, up until the Fall, Adam and Eve always make the free and rational choice to go into the shade at midday to escape the heat. To extend the metaphor beyond where I probably should, their choice to disobey God removes the “veil” (Bk IX) because they can’t not know evil anymore. Thus, the shades in prelapsarian Eden are precariously “pendant”. The brooks meander through them. Vocabulary like “rolling”, “mazy”, “error” is later used to describe Satan inside the snake. It seems to remind us that the water is meant to err – it’s within its remit to do this, as indicated by the presence of the “shades” – whereas Satan, Eve and Adam go against God’s natural order by erring. I also have to mention the sound of “Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold”. You keep returning to that long “o” sound as if you’re going round a wheel – rolling, in fact.

Conclusion: Paradise Lost fan art is creepy af. Do not look for it again.

Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice Art / In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon / Poured forth profuse on hill

Milton despises gardening. Again, the imagery of knots suggests deception, contrivance, falsehood. “Nice” becomes disdainful – like when my Year 6 teacher told us never to use it in creative writing. It demeans its noun (as does the adjective “curious”) to favour the natural over the man-made. There is no excess in nature, only plenty, whereas “beds” have boundaries, which you could argue is a symbol for mankind’s prison, mortality, in which we serve our sentence as a punishment for original sin.Pl05

League with you I seek, / And mutual amity, so strait, so close, / That I with you must dwell, or you with me / Henceforth

“League with you I seek” sounds like the proposal of some sort of pact, the opening of negotiations over which Satan exudes control. This is evident in the positioning of Satan’s pronouns on either side of Eve’s pronouns: “I with you…you with me”. He surrounds her. In Book IX, Eve says that their path is “straitened by the foe”. She conflates her and Adam’s perpetually “joint hands” with the stifling friendship Satan has proposed and grows to resent their oneness even though it is right and natural in God’s order. I’m not saying that as a 21st century reader I don’t get where Eve is coming from – I do – but Milton called marriage a “golden dependence of headship and subjection” (Works IV) (guess who’s meant to do which *raises a feminist eyebrow*) so from that perspective Eve should have borne in mind the importance of maintaining her marriage and her place in God’s hierarchy.

John Martin Paradise Lost Eve at the Fountain
Eve at the Fountain – John Martin – 1827 (published)

I thither went / With unexperienced thought, and laid me down / On the green bank, to look into the clear / Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky. / As I bent down to look, just opposite / A shape within the watery gleam appeared, / Bending to look on me: I started back, / It started back; but pleased I soon returned, / Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks / Of sympathy and love: There I had fixed / Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire, / Had not a voice thus warned me…

Narcissus – Caravaggio – circa 1597-99

Surely this is the best passage about a reflection ever written in the English language. I don’t want to kill it by dissection – the way the syntax mimics the actions and reactions of Eve and her double is pretty clear. WhatI felt the need to highlight was Eve’s vanity. It’s very Narcissus-esque, actually…
A friend of mine once suggested that readers often took a disliking to Eve because she doesn’t paint humanity in such a favourable light. Aptly, this is a wonderful example of her holding up a mirror to us and showing a flaw. For me, this makes her more endearing than dull, heroic Adam, who always knows what’s right (even when he doesn’t choose it).


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