Paradise Lost, Books VII and VIII: Edenic Education

ParadiseLostReadalongAs per our last outing, I’m going to let Milton himself give the summary of these two books, in which Raphael relates to Adam the story of creation, and Adam tells Raphael what he remembers of his first days in Paradise.

Book VII

Raphael at the request of Adam relates how and wherefore this world was first created; that God, after the expelling of Satan and his Angels out of Heaven, declar’d his pleasure to create another World and other Creatures to dwell therein; sends his Son with Glory and attendance of Angels to perform the work of Creation in six days: the Angels celebrate with Hymns the performance thereof, and his reascention into Heaven.

Book VIII

Adam inquires concerning celestial Motions, is doubtfully answer’d, and exhorted to search rather things more worthy of knowledge: Adam assents, and still desirous to detain Raphael, relates to him what he remember’d since his own Creation, his placing in Paradise, his talk with God concerning solitude and fit society, his first meeting and Nuptials with Eve, his discourse with the Angel thereupon; who after admonitions repeated departs.

Though not as action-packed as Book VI, Books VII and VIII offer perks of their own: Book VII features some of Milton’s loveliest nature poetry (and his sometimes funny tendency to explain absolutely everything), and in Book VIII, we get Milton’s views on aliens and angelic sex. Really — read it and see!

I’m in the midst of a rather horrid cold, dear readers, so I’m going to be correspondingly rather brief.

Milton’s catalog of the beauties of Eden (reminiscent of the evocation of the lush garden in Book IV) is all part of the consistent foreshadowing in these two books: all is beautiful and perfect, and it’s not going to stay that way. Similarly, Adam’s focus on Eve’s beauty and her enthralling charms presages the Fall that’s about to happen.

One of the most interesting discrepancies in the poem is revealed with Adam’s interpretation of Eve’s turning away from him at their first meeting. Adam attributes Eve’s initial relcutance to natural modesty and maiden bashfulness, but Eve tells a different tale in Book IV. Having seen her own reflection, Adam seems “less fair / Less winning soft, less amiably mild” and she wishes to return to the other figure she saw. Interesting, huh?

Here’s a passage I like that seems pretty darn important (Raphael is speaking to Adam):

Consider first that great
Or bright infers not excellence: the earth
Though in comparison of heav’n so small,
Nor glistering, may of solid good contain
More plenty that the sun that barren shines
Whose virtue on itself works to no effect
But in the fruitful earth. (8.90-96)

 

Something wicked this way comes — on February 20 we’ll be talking about Books IX and X, and the return of everyone’s favorite fallen angel. 

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7 thoughts on “Paradise Lost, Books VII and VIII: Edenic Education

  1. Since the poem is quite long and detailed, I always try to imagine Milton dictating to his friends or family and having them read it back to him over the many years it took to write Paradise Lost. I read he suffered from various illnesses and other personal issues at the time, and wonder if he channeled some of his pain and heartache into the poem.

    • He dictated to his daughter in the mornings — he would stay up at night working on it, and then she’d come in to record what he’d “written.” The whole poem is about 10,000 lines long, so if he composed 20 lines a night (and good lord that’s an impressive pace for poetry this good) it would take 500 nights of work. Yikes. I’m impressed too by the structuring and the repetition he did.

  2. I’m struggling with certain sections of this week’s read, so I have a bunch of questions.

    I completely missed the “aliens”. To what aliens are you referring, Carolyn? Is it in the discourse with Raphael about the universe, or somewhere else???? Or were you being funny and I’m taking you literally? 🙂

    I understood the angelic sex as the exact opposite. He was trying to distinguish for Adam, to put it in very simplistic terms, that sex was not love; he then explained the difference. Adam asked how angels love whereupon Raphael explained that because they are higher beings, they love in a completely different way. I think he’d already thrown sex/passion out of the picture at the beginning.

    Why was there a discrepancy in Eve’s turning away? My take was that she saw him as less “beautiful” than she was and was simply attracted to the most beautiful thing she had yet seen, but as soon as Adam took her hand, it was revealed to her how “beauty is excelled by manly grace,” another example of hierarchy being established. It also beginning evidence of vanity, perhaps. Yet I didn’t see Adam’s understanding of the situation as so much of a discrepancy as a misunderstanding, which actually made him more humble in my eyes.

    Sorry about all the questions. Please let me know if I’ve totally missed something. I’m trying to make sure I don’t, but it’s entirely possible as the poem is getting more difficult.

    Hope you’re feeling better! 🙂

  3. Pingback: On Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and Milton | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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