Paradise Lost 14: Princes, Potentates, Warriors…Satan’s oratory & those cursed footnotes

not dark when leaving work at 5.00pm.JPG
Trees outlined in the not quite dark,  Calderstones 5.00pm on Friday

Picking up my nearly regular sunday reading of Paradise Lost  where I left off last time in Book 1,

A quick explanation for anyone who wouldn’t naturally find themselves reading such a poem:   I’m interested in acts of translation from one way of thinking to another, particularly from Christian  thinking in poetry – Dante, Milton, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and many others – to  my own a-religious thoughts. Many years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D, on what I called ‘Visionary Realism’, I realised that I was interested in what happens to religious experience when people no longer believe in religion. Are there, for example, still experiences of ‘grace’? Do we ever  experience ‘miracles’? Are there trials and tribulations of the soul? Is there ‘soul’? …and so on.  I came into this area of thinking through Doris Lessing’s novel-series Canopus in Argos, and particularly the first novel in that series,  Shikasta. There’s a partial account of this in previous blog post, ‘Lifesavers’.

If you are joining me new today, I’d suggest a read  through from the beginning first. You’ll find a good online edition here.  But if there’s no time for that, well, just start here and now. Satan, cast out from heaven and now knowing only hell, is regrouping and calls on his close confederate, Beelzebub, to rouse their battered  armies to try

once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell? [ 270 ]

So Satan spake, and him Beelzebub
Thus answer’d. Leader of those Armies bright,
Which but th’ Onmipotent none could have foyld,
If once they hear that voycethir liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft   [ 275 ]
In worst extreams, and on the perilous edge
Of battel when it rag’d, in all assaults
Thir surest signal, they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lye
Groveling and prostrate on yon Lake of Fire, [ 280 ]
As we erewhile, astounded and amaz’d,
No wonder, fall’n such a pernicious highth.

He scarce had ceas’t when the superiour Fiend
Was moving toward the shoar; his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round, [ 285 ]
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb
Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views
At Ev’ning from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new Lands, [ 290 ]
Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe.

I’m pausing there because line 283 opens a longish verse paragraph  of the sort I don’t enjoy, and I want to skip over it. There are too many references I don’t get and the main matter isn’t very interesting to me.

But before I get into or pass by that paragraph, I want to notice something about the way speaking (or is it the items of language we speak – the emotions carried by the words?)  builds up confidence or changes what you might do.

Last time I read this I had been thinking about the way Satan’s thought changes as he speaks – he doesn’t seem to start off knowing what he is going to say, but  instead starts and finds himself talking himself into something (see here). As he speaks now, he’s heard by Beelzebub, who is ready to go with him and knows that if Satan addresses the troops, they will also be easily persuaded, too.

If once they hear that voycethir liveliest pledge
Of hope in fears and dangers, heard so oft   [ 275 ]
In worst extreams, and on the perilous edge
Of battel when it rag’d, in all assaults
Thir surest signal, they will soon resume
New courage and revive, though now they lye
Groveling and prostrate on yon Lake of Fire, [ 280 ]

That voice, their livliest pledge… yes but what is it in the voice or language of an orator which moves us?

The satanic army last heard Satan talking as they lost the war in heaven: it is the cause of their fall and the reason ‘now they lye/Groveling and prostrate on yon Lake of Fire’. Yet Beelzebub puts it in glorious language which misses out the loss of the war, and concentrates on their  nobility in the fight.  Look at the words: livliest pledge, hope in fears and dangers, in all assaults thir surest signal, new courage, revive.  All the losses are forgotten as Beelzebub primes himself, Satan, us and anyone else listening to believe in him. Certainly it works for Satan:

He scarce had ceas’t when the superiour Fiend
Was moving toward the shoar; his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large and round, [ 285 ]
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb
Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views
At Ev’ning from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new Lands, [ 290 ]
Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe.

The trick of this overwhelm of reference is to look up then up quick and then read  again, not thinking about them. The references are often interesting (e.g. the Dartmouth edition reference here to Tuscan artist: Tuscan artistGalileo (1564-1642). Milton visited him and saw his telescope in Valdarno, the valley of the Arno. Galileo’s telescopeand the observations he made with it supported the Copernicanmodel of the cosmos over the Ptolemaic model, much to the Church’s chagrin. Galileo spent most of the last years of his life under house arrest, ordered by the Church.). the problem is they so interrupt the flow. You have to accept that interrupt the first  and many subsequent times round!  I like the Dartmouth online edition because it’s very easy to glance at the references. The  Longman edition, edited by Fowler, is also good for that – the references are on the page.

Sometimes I ignore them, sometimes I’d just skip these descriptive parts entirely, and sometimes fellow readers will make me read both the descriptive bits and the notes. But let us read on now through this description of Satan. Tough going? read it aloud, follow the punctuation, pause at every comma.

His Spear, to equal which the tallest Pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the Mast
Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand,
He walkt with to support uneasie steps [ 295 ]
Over the burning Marle, not like those steps
On Heavens Azure, and the torrid Clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with Fire;
Nathless he so endur’d, till on the Beach
Of that inflamed Sea, he stood and call’d [ 300 ]
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’ Etrurian shades
High overarch’t imbowr; or scatterd sedge
Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orion arm’d [ 305 ]
Hath vext the Red-Sea Coast, whose waves orethrew
Busiris and his Memphian Chivalry,
While with perfidious hatred they pursu’d
The Sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore thir floating Carkases [ 310 ]
And broken Chariot Wheels, so thick bestrown
Abject and lost lay these, covering the Flood,
Under amazement of thir hideous change.
He call’d so loud, that all the hollow Deep
Of Hell resounded. Princes, Potentates, [ 315 ]
Warriers, the Flowr of Heav’n, once yours, now lost,
If such astonishment as this can sieze
Eternal spirits; or have ye chos’n this place
After the toyl of Battel to repose
Your wearied vertue, for the ease you find [ 320 ]
To slumber here, as in the Vales of Heav’n?
Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
To adore the Conquerour? who now beholds
Cherube and Seraph rowling in the Flood
With scatter’d Arms and Ensigns, till anon [ 325 ]
His swift pursuers from Heav’n Gates discern
Th’ advantage, and descending tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked Thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of this Gulfe.
Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n. [ 330 ]

In passages like this, I’d be reading a sentence or a clause at a time, and asking  group members to translate into modern English to ensure we have the drift. Then I’d be looking, or asking my group to look for things of interest. Sometimes there aren’t any! Sometimes  you think there’s nothing of interest and then, because you’re going so slowly, there is…

His Spear, to equal which the tallest Pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the Mast
Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand,
He walkt with to support uneasie steps [ 295 ]
Over the burning Marle, not like those steps
On Heavens Azure, and the torrid Clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with Fire;
Nathless he so endur’d,

I’ve just been in Norway and seen some of those tall pines! Mildly interested in them.  Milton asks us to think of the tallest ship’s mast, then takes human perspective away by saying, ‘that would be just a wand’ (wand – thin flexible whip of wood) compared to Satan’s spear.  It’s all much more gigantic than we can imagine. Once we’ve got that picture in mind he asks us to picture Satan struggling, using the spear as a crutch ‘to support uneasie steps’ which have to be compared – by Satan, by Milton, by us, to the kind of steps he would have taken in heaven, on Heavens Azure. We don’t get to see them, simply to  picture them in a negative print of this. Not this. Not this. The torrid clime of Hell punishes Satan even as he tries to move.  It ‘smote on him sore besides’ – besides what? I ask myself. Besides remembering how easy it was move to in Heaven.

The mental pain of loss comes before the physical pain of  fire.  But see what we are dealing with: ‘nathless he so endured.’ The will of this creature!

till on the Beach
Of that inflamed Sea, he stood and call’d [ 300 ]
His Legions, Angel Forms, who lay intrans’t
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th’Etrurian shades
High overarch’t imbowr; or scatterd sedge
Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orionarm’d [ 305 ]
Hath vext the Red-Sea Coast, whose waves orethrew
Busiris and his Memphian Chivalry,
While with perfidious hatred they pursu’d
The Sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
From the safe shore thir floating Carkases [ 310 ]
And broken Chariot Wheels, so thick bestrown
Abject and lost lay these, covering the Flood,
Under amazement of thir hideous change.

Milton is using whatever references he can get to put connection points in his reader’s mind: he’s telling us something unimaginable: how do you get your reader to imagine something unimaginable? Metaphor is the method, using things we might know or could learn about: picture the fallen devils, abject and lost, like fallen  leaves, psychologically stunned, amazed, by the change that as happened to them.

And then Satan rouses them:

He call’d so loud, that all the hollow Deep
Of Hell resounded. Princes, Potentates, [ 315 ]
Warriers, the Flowr of Heav’n, once yours, now lost,
If such astonishment as this can sieze
Eternal spirits; or have ye chos’n this place
After the toyl of Battel to repose
Your wearied vertue, for the ease you find [ 320 ]
To slumber here, as in the Vales of Heav’n?
Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
To adore the Conquerour? who now beholds
Cherube and Seraph rowling in the Flood
With scatter’d Arms and Ensigns, till anon [ 325 ]
His swift pursuers from Heav’n Gates discern
Th’ advantage, and descending tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked Thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of this Gulfe.
Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n. [ 330 ]

Not leaves, he calls them, not a pile of lifeless stuff on fire,  but ‘Princes, Potentates, Warriors, the Flower of Heaven’ . I imagine myself as a fallen angel, addressed like this. How good  (but painful) to remember I was once the flower of heaven… and is heaven now lost? Look at the syntax here. It implies Heaven is only  lost

If such astonishment as this can sieze
Eternal spirits;

as a fallen angel I’d be deeeply attracted by that ‘if’.  Then we have a couple of alternatives;

or have ye chos’n this place
After the toyl of Battel to repose
Your wearied vertue,

Are they resting?  To even posit this as possibility is an amazingly cheeky, perhaps sarcastic,  recalibrating  of the situation! Satan then offers another – to his listeners, vile – suggestion:

Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
To adore the Conquerour?

And perhaps that is a real possibility. Perhaps some of them, so broken, without his  oratory, might change their minds?  Satan now piles terror, scorn and humiliation on his listeners. The conqueror, he says

now beholds
Cherube and Seraphrowling in the Flood
With scatter’d Arms and Ensigns, till anon [ 325 ]
His swift pursuers from Heav’n Gates discern
Th’ advantage, and descending tread us down
Thus drooping, or with linked Thunderbolts
Transfix us to the bottom of this Gulfe.

There’s no evidence of this – Satan is manipulating his audience to  make them remember their humiliating rout and feel new fear. Why? So he can move them! Now comes the call to arms:

Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n. [ 330 ]

What would they have to rise up for?  Well, they’d move for Heaven, ‘once yours now lost’ if it seemed a possibilty.  If you read any of the reference links to leaves/shade/shades… you’ll have seen the fallen angels pictured as dead leaves piled up and also as ghosts.  Satan, moments ago needing to use his spear as a walking stick, is calling them back to a new stand, to rebellious life.

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