Milton in May: Paradise Lost, Books 7-9

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How is Paradise Lost coming along for you who are reading along?

I admit that I slowed down a little bit in the last two weeks (hence, there was no Paradise Lost post last week). I got a head cold and I don’t think Milton is best considered on a cloudy brain. But, there is still a week left in the month, and I suspect I’ll still be reading Milton into the first week(s) of June. Once I picked up Milton again recently, I felt I needed to keep going. There seems to be some kind of momentum that comes from reading, and I always enjoy it once I do pick up Paradise Lost.

Discussion questions and thoughts on Books 7-9 after the jump.

Paradise Lost Discussion Questions: Books 7-9

Here are some questions if you aren’t sure how to respond to the section. I had a difficult time thinking in terms of “questions” this week; I was more inclined to just write my reactions to the section as a whole. Hence, this is shorter than in past weeks. If these don’t help you any, just tell us how your reading is going, and what your general impressions are of Paradise Lost at this point

  • How does Raphael’s description of the creation (book 7) strike you? What about Adam’s description of his and Eve’s own creation (in book 8)?
  • In book 8, Adam asks about the movements of the celestial bodies. Why do you think Milton included this section, and Raphael’s response?
  • What did Milton’s portrayal of Eve and then Adam taking the fruit (book 9) tell you about their relationship? Did you like Milton’s approach?

My Thoughts: Paradise Lost books 7-9

A commenter the other week mentioned that it was interesting to read my religious reaction to Paradise Lost, since for that particular commenter it was an epic myth much as Homer. Yes, my reaction certainly is religious in nature: I don’t think I can approach Milton in any other way. I appreciate it all the more because it tells the religious traditions I believe in and blends in the epic proportions of Homer.

This next section, books 7-9, took me a while to get through. When I did finish, I’d developed a head cold, and I didn’t quite feel up to trying to write about Paradise Lost in my daze. Now, it’s been a few more days, so my thoughts are distanced from the reading. I recall I enjoyed portions of the section, but Book 9 was wonderful.

The story of the creation of the world (book 7) wasn’t as dull to me as were the story of the battles in the previous section’s reading. It was a nice change. I liked some of the beautiful language Milton used to describe the various stages of the world’s creation.

He scarce had said, when the bare Earth, till then
Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorn’d,
Brought forth the tender Grass, whose verdure clad [ 315 ]
Her Universal Face with pleasant green,
…..          That Earth now
Seemd like to Heav’n, a seat where Gods might dwell,
Or wander with delight, and love to haunt [ 330 ]
Her sacred shades: … (VII. 313-316, 227-331)

Then, the discussion about the heavens at the beginning of the next book (book 8 ) is an interesting albeit a slightly boring one. It seemed Milton was saying we should not worry about what we don’t need to worry about. Science is for scientists; we should not consider it a way of understanding heaven. Religious understanding should be separate from scientific understanding. As I read Forsyth’s biography, I learned that Milton had really enjoyed his visit with Galileo, then under house-arrest, when he visited Italy. Maybe this discussion of science in his religious epic was his way of saying that science should remain separate from religion. I still felt book 8 was weaker than the other books, but knowing Milton’s interest in Galileo (and his interest in astronomy), it seemed a little more interesting. Milton’s religious epic had to have a political aspect to it for it to be truly Milton, I guess.

The second half of book 8, Adam’s discussion of his own creation, seemed rather sexual, which seemed rather surprising. The angel’s warnings reminded Adam of the need for his love to avoid becoming lust:

… love refines
The thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat
In reason, and is judicious, is the scale
By which to heav’nly love thou may’st ascend.
Not sunk in carnal pleasure for which cause
Among the beasts no mate for thee was found. (VIII.589-594)

I don’t think Adam was lustful at this point in the text. It seemed to me that Adam practically had to beg God for a companion because he was lonely, and he’s now very glad she is there. He loves having a companion. But Raphael’s warnings are all foreshadowing for Adam’s subsequent fall in book 9. Some commentary suggests that Adam’s epic weakness in Paradise Lost is his attraction to Eve.

Unsurprisingly, book 9 was my favorite book in this section, when Eve is tempted to partake of the fruit. Some commentary suggested that Milton portrayed Eve as partaking of the fruit without thought, but I thought her explanation to Adam to be quite thoughtful. Then again, this statement to Adam comes after she has partaken of the fruit, so maybe she’s already become wise:

… I
Have also tasted, and have also found
The’ effects to correspond, opener mine eyes,
Dim erst, dilated spirits, ampler heart,
And growing up to godhead; which for thee
Chiefly I sought, without thee can dispise. (IX.873-878)

Despite her comment, it should be noted that on the page previous she’d debated sharing it with Adam. If she did not share it, she would be wiser than he, which greatly interested her. She decided she should share it in the end, because she would be jealous of another “Eve.”

Adam likewise doesn’t like the thought of a different “Eve,” so he partakes of the fruit too.

So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself. (IX.955-960)

Forsyth’s biography (which I’ve since finished; more about that later) seemed to want to prove that Milton was not misogynistic. I am not sure if Forsyth succeeded or not in that. But Paradise Lost, itself, is interesting when one considers women. I didn’t find it to be misogynistic in places, but in other passages Milton writes things discriminatory toward women and I don’t like the attitude:

… Thus is shall befall
Him who to worth in women overtrusting
Lets her will rule; restraint she will not brooke,
And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,
She first his weak indulgence will accuse. (IX. 1182-1187)

These are Adam’s words. Are they Milton’s too? Maybe Milton puts such cruel words in Adam’s mouth because he wishes to show the discord that is now in their relationship, which is such a contrast to the conversation at the beginning of the book. I liked this contrast from the beginning to the end of Book 9, and I look forward to seeing how Milton resolves the epic.

Reviewed on May 24, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Not that I’m happy about your cold, but it means that I finally caught up with you.

    I can tell you one way that I am asking different questions than you – I never use “Milton was saying we should” phrasing. I’m having enough trouble with the text as it is. In that passage, for example, Raphael tells Adam not to worry about all of the cosmic details, which may or may not be the same thing as what Milton wants to tell me.

    Milton is explaining “the ways of God to man” in a poem that is absolutely crammed with cosmic details. So I’m puzzled.

    As a religious reader, what do you make of Chaos, the non-Heaven and non-Hell?
    .-= Amateur Reader´s last post on blog ..You know that I should strangle you – vivid William Morris =-.

    • Amateur Reader, I do apologize — I am not writing about the section by approaching it as a student of literature (as I once was). Your example is a perfect example of how I am not. I’m reading things somewhat “wrong” these days.

      But, that said, I have been reading Adam as an example of myself. I’ve been reading Paradise Lost this time looking for messages/connections to my own life. Not what my English professors would say is right, since, as you point out quite appropriately, Milton is not necessarily saying the same things his characters are saying.

      Yes, the entire poem has been quite crammed full of “cosmic details.” What is puzzling you in particular? Or do you just mean Raphael’s explanation to Adam? I do think Milton is fascinated by the heavens and putting Raphael’s comment to Adam to “stop worrying” seems to be political. I don’t know enough about the politics to say exactly why, that’s just how it sounded to me on reading it and then reading the biography of Milton (which was a short, somewhat superficial preliminary look at the politics of his era).

      As for your last question, I’d say that I see Milton’s theological perspective as extended into fantastic realms, just as my own religious understanding would be extended if I were to try to write an epic poem about it (although mine, of course would be horrendous as I’m not a writer/poet). I can explain how the concept of Chaos matches my own theological beliefs (in some ways) but I don’t THINK that’s what you’re asking. My religious beliefs are separate and different from Milton’s in many points but I do enjoy making my own comparisons and extensions.

      • Please, no apolgies! I can argue that I’m the one reading the poem in the wrong way. I’m getting stuck in these details – just what Raphael is warning us against! The poem obviously has a serious, even profound, ethical purpose, and I’m spending my time worrying about Chaos and Night (“the eldest of things”) and similar trivia.

        I kind of was asking how your beliefs incorporate Milton’s Chaos, this neutral (or not so neutral?) space between Heaven and Hell. But I think you’ve answered me, in a way – your idea about Milton extending his imagination, in this case past scripture, into the fantastic, is a good one. Probably describes his creative path well.
        .-= Amateur Reader´s last post on blog ..You know that I should strangle you – vivid William Morris =-.

        • Amateur Reader, I can see what you’re saying about being confused. There are lots of details in it. I’m trying to read more superficially. I think I need to read it a number of more times to fully make sense of it!

  • I’ve never gotten the sense that Milton was any more misogynistic than any other Puritan sympathizer of his time. It was about a hundred years later that Samuel Johnson said that a woman preaching was like a dog standing on his hind legs.
    .-= Jeanne´s last post on blog ..Birds of America =-.

    • Jeanne, that’s kind of my impression too. So many people seem to give him a bad rap, so I feel I’ve been reading Paradise Lost more carefully, looking for Milton’s comments on women.

      I don’t know much about Samuel Johnson, but the more I read about him, the less I like him….I have the Boswell’s LIFE OF JOHNSON waiting to be read, though, so maybe I need to learn a little more before I judge him completely. lol

      • I enjoyed Boswell’s portrait of Johnson in the Life (and of himself!). I think I remember that quotation because Johnson was so clever in so many areas and it seemed to me such a blind spot for him.
        .-= Jeanne´s last post on blog ..The Magicians =-.

  • It was so foolish of me to agree to this readalong in a month when I knew I was going to have mad upheavals. I am totally behind! I’m going to end up doing lots of Milton in June posts. :/

    I agree with you that Eve is a pretty thoughtful character – or at least, that’s how I remember her. She thinks a lot about what sort of a person she wants to be, which I think is fair! She wants to explore the possibility of independence. It is a legitimate thing to explore.
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Reviewing other people’s grief =-.

    • Jenny, no worries, I’ll be posting about Milton for a few more weeks, I think!

      As someone (Amateur Reader?) said on another point, Milton was a huge proponent of autonomy. Eve seems the perfect example!

  • I have gotten through to Book 9 finally, but no posts. I may just end up doing a wrap up post at the end, but I am enjoying the discussions. I found the creation of the world to be quite beautiful which surprised me, because other longer, descriptive passages I have not had patience with. I did get a bit tense in reading the derogatory comments about Eve and her inferiority. I felt like Raphael and Adam perceived her as more of an object than a thoughtful being in her own right, so in a way I’m glad she got to eat the fruit first. I’m looking though my book now and realizing I didn’t quite finish Book 9 after all. Oops!
    .-= Shelley´s last post on blog ..Cranford: Book and Movie Reviews =-.

    • Shelley, in retrospect, I’m finding it hard to do in between posts, so go ahead an post at your convenience. I do like the discussion as well, though, so I think it’s good I have been forcing myself to write posts!

      I’m with you on the creation of the world. Maybe because we know there are set increments (i.e., each day) that will give it some structure.

      Re: the comments about Eve. I do think Adam didn’t take her as seriously as he should have. Maybe that’s why Eve taking the fruit was such a big thing — like Jenny says above, she wanted to prove her individuality!

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