Milton in May: Paradise Regained

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Paradise Regained was surprisingly accessible, especially so close on the heels of Paradise Lost. First, it was much shorter. At four books of 500-600 lines each, I was able to read it all in one sitting (about 2 hours), which gave it consistency and context (with Paradise Lost, I was taking long breaks in between each book). Paradise Regained also lacked the classic “name dropping” that made Paradise Lost complicated. It had plenty of New Testament references, but for me that was not exhausting. From a Christian perspective, the story of Christ resisting temptation was utterly satisfying. Finally, from beginning to end, it had Milton’s wonderful poetic language. I really enjoyed reading Paradise Regained.

There are two main characters in Paradise Regained: the Son of God (Jesus Christ) and Satan, who appears in disguises to try to tempt the Son of God. This is the story of Christ’s temptations in the wilderness, shortly after his baptism. It shows Christ as he’s just coming into himself. He is just beginning to understand his unique role on earth and especially his ability to resist the illogical temptations of the devil.

Satan is completely different in this than he was in Paradise Lost. He still appears among his devils in a brief exchange, but he is a weakened creature. His speech to the other devils seems unsure. He doesn’t have any of the majesty or confidence he had as he addressed the swarms in the beginning of Paradise Lost. He needs advice:

…I summon all
Rather to be in readiness with hand
Or counsel to assist; lest I who erst
Thought none to be my equal now be overmatch’d. (II.143-146)

This council among the devils doesn’t last long. Most of the discussion in Paradise Regained is Christ’s interior monologue (in which he ponders his calling on earth) and discussion between the Son of God and Satan.

I believe that the undeniable hero of Paradise Regained is the unsure yet mighty Son of God. In the beginning, he is rather unconfident, and to me, it seems so very accurate as a portrayal of how Christ must have felt. He ponders his past, his unusual childhood, and he realizes he is meant for greater things. He has just been baptized, after which

Heaven open’d her eternal doors, from whence
The Spirit decended on me like a Dove;
And last the sum of all, my Father’s voice,
Audibly heard from Heav’n, prounc’d me his,
Mee his beloved Son, in whom alone
He was well pleas’d; … (I. 281-286)

Yet, it is not until he recognizes Satan in his disguises and calls Satan on his faulty logic that he fully realizes his strengths and his role, it seems. Each book ends with Satan’s disgrace. “So fares it when with truth falsehood contends.” (III.443)

In the last passages, Satan falls multiple times. Ultimately, Angelic Choirs sing of the Son of God:

…now thou has aveng’d
Supplanted Adam, and by vanquishing
Temptation, hast regain’d lost Paradise,
And frustrated the conquest fraudulent:
He never more henceforth willd are set foot
In Paradise to tempt; his snares are broke:
For though that seat of earthly bliss be fail’d,
A fairer Paradise is founded now
For Adam and his chosen Sons, whom thou
A Savior art come down to reinstall (IV.606-615)

I loved the last sentence of the poem, for after all of these events, he “home to his Mother’s house private return’d” (IV.639). To me, that appropriately reinforced the mortal side of this eternal being. This poem was about his ability to resist Satan’s temptations; he, the Son of God, our Savior, has the ability to do so perfectly. Yet, that little reminder (and the others) that he had a mother who worried about him seems so touching, and it’s appropriate to address his mortality as well as his eternal nature. Milton brought everything full circle, and I loved that.

This is officially my last post for my extended Milton in May project in 2010. I had intended to also reread Samson Agonistes, which I enjoyed when I read it in college, but I am not interested in reading it right now. Maybe next year I’ll do a Milton in May mini-read, where I read some of the things I missed this year!

Reviewed on June 14, 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.

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