Paradise Lost 16: Milton’s Time Travel and a Throwaway Line

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The first flower on the single red camellia, 2 Feb 2018

Another week with no time to read and write – or is it that I am not making the time? I certainly have spent time in other ways, and I have written other types of things, but mainly, I’ve been on the road, out of routine.

But that stops tomorrow when I have a full week at Calderstones, The Reader’s home and Head Office and time therefore  to establish the drill:  get up, exercise, shower, read, write. Let’s see how it goes. Meanwhile I can confirm, for those who noticed the pledge, that I  handed my Reader credit card receipts on time and in without causing – I hope – hold up time or trouble to my colleagues in Finance.

This morning I’ve been writing already, working on organisational thoughts to do with The Reader.  Pressing work-related thinking! But now I have half an hour to turn to Paradise Lost.

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’.

Last week we saw the rebel angels roused by Satan’s oratory. I want to pick up again at the section where I finished last time. Of the now upright, innumerable and massive  fallen angels, Milton writes:

Though of thir Names in heav’nly Records now
Be no memorial blotted out and ras’d
By thir Rebellion, from the Books of Life.
Nor had they yet among the Sons of Eve
Got them new Names, till wandring ore the Earth, [ 365 ]
Through Gods high sufferance for the tryal of man,
By falsities and lyes the greatest part
Of Mankind they corrupted to forsake
God thir Creator, and th’ invisible
Glory of him that made them, to transform [ 370 ]
Oft to the Image of a Brute, adorn’d
With gay Religions full of Pomp and Gold,
And Devils to adore for Deities:
Then were they known to men by various Names,
And various Idols through the Heathen World. [ 375 ]

The names of these angels when they were in heaven are lost, they are ‘blotted out and ras’d/By thir Rebellion, from the Books of Life’. And at this point, they had not yet got the names humans would give them later. In a sense they are now for Milton, and for us reading, unnameable.

This is interesting to me because in a minute we are going to see that  soon enough, by making themselves part of the human world, by corrupting that world, we will come to name, know them as individual  things, presences in person. But here they seem, more frighteningly,  an unspeakable force, a bad energy, a potential for badness. Is this always there, at the bottom of the universe?  is it part of the universe? Milton’s Christian patter means that  fall is fall and bad is bad… but another type of religious view would accept fall, bad, even corruption as natural. I’ve been reading  Joseph Campbell’s The Power Myth which gave me pause for thought about fall, falling, fallenness. I’ll have to come back to this another  time.

Back to the poem.

Quickly, in a move characteristic of his time travel in this poem, Milton shoots forward into the human future.  At the moment these unnamed creatures are on the lake in hell, but Milton suddenly sees them

till wandring ore the Earth, [ 365 ]
Through Gods high sufferance for the tryal of man,
By falsities and lyes the greatest part
Of Mankind they corrupted

This is huge potential span of future time – lasting right beyond Milton into pagan, pre-Christian times and through him into our own time and  the  future beyond us. And the terrifying  throwaway  line is dropped in as if quite understood and accepted by all –  ‘the greatest part/Of Mankind they corrupted’ – yep, that’s us.

But it is also specifically  the pre-Christian era. The devils become gods, as we see when we read on:

corrupted to forsake
God thir Creator, and th’ invisible
Glory of him that made them, to transform [ 370 ]
Oft to the Image of a Brute, adorn’d
With gay Religions full of Pomp and Gold,
And Devils to adore for Deities:
Then were they known to men by various Names,
And various Idols through the Heathen World. [ 375 ]

That’s a short half hour of reading. But much still to do today and not yet dressed.

 

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Temporary Cafe being built at Calderstones
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Temporary Cafe nearly there 

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