On the Neglect of Human Emotion in “Paradise Lost”
On the Neglect of Human Emotion in “Paradise Lost”: A Rebuttal Within Virginia Wolf’s letter and diary entry, she discusses her thoughts on John Million’s writing style within “Paradise Lost,” and reveals her feeling that Milton, while clearly an expert of literary description, does very little to touch upon human passions and emotion within his poem. Upon reading “Paradise Lost,” it is clear that Wolf has a point; extravagant descriptions of heaven, hell, angels and God abound within the epic, but instances of human sentiment are more difficult to come across.
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Wolf goes as far as to say that Milton “entirely neglects the human heart. ” While Wolf’s statement is not entirely accurate, Million’s ornate images and accounts of venerated deities waging war against sinister demonic entities certainly may appear detached and daunting upon first glance; but after an assiduous perusal of the epic, indications of humanistic emotion within the text become apparent. Despite Million’s frequent emotionally distant descriptions, within certain points within the poem emotion does manage to percolate through Million’s scholarly poetic portrayals.
The rarity of these scenes make them all the more poignant, although one may have to analyze the specific meaning of what Milton is saying in certain lines in order to completely comprehend the sentimentality behind what he writes. Though Milton may remain relatively impersonal throughout his poem, the central themes and the characters contained within it say a lot about Million’s personal beliefs; this is particularly evident in his character’s soliloquies and discussions.
Satan in particular serves to portray certain aspects of Million’s principles that make it clear that human lining is not left entirely out of the equation for the author. One instance of personal emotion Milton allows to escape within “Paradise Lost” is found within the second invocation in the poem, in the beginning of Book Ill. Within this passage, Milton is invoking “holy light” and asking that this light shine through his mind and allow him to “see and tell / Of things invisible to mortal sight! ” Milton also makes references in this passage to his loss of vision, describing other prophets and poets who were also struck with blindness.
One of Million’s critics states that “There is much to be said for eating Milton less as thesis driven and more as one who worked and worried over the things he wrote, finally leaving many decisions to the reader (Grossman, 264). ” The viewpoint Grossman suggests is an ideal one to take while considering this particular passage; it is easy to get absorbed in the historical backgrounds or mythological allusions behind what Milton is writing and forget to consider the state of mind Milton was in while writing instead.
While some of the lines within the invocation still hold the aloof, pretentiously scholarly air Milton assumes throughout ouch of “Paradise Lost,” a particular cluster of lines allow the reader to feel some of the grief Milton holds concerning his lack of sight. He writes “Thus with the year / Seasons return but not to me returns / Day or the sweet approach of even or morn / Or sight of vernal bloom or summer’s rose / Or flocks or herds or human face divine / men / Cut off and, for the book of knowledge fair, / Presented with a universal blank / Of nature’s works to me expunged and razed / And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out (3. (:)-50). ” These lines are particularly emotional; not only do they outline pacific sights Milton will never again be able to lay his eyes upon, but they also inadvertently address a sense of vulnerability Milton feels because of his inability to read to obtain knowledge. Further information about Million’s personal life makes these lines all the more meaningful- Milton read voraciously in many different languages during his youth, and many scholars agree that he read literally everything available worldwide until he lost his sight.
Combine this information with the idea that suddenly, Milton has found himself completely incapable of reading things for myself, and the words “wisdom at one entrance quite shut out” suddenly hold a new sense of tragedy. Milton had found himself drastically weakened intellectually, and shares his inner struggle with the reader within these few lines. Yet Wolf states within her letter, “Has any great poem ever let in so little light upon one’s own Joys and sorrows? ” Perhaps Wolf never considered the idea that Milton used his expansive academic familiarity within “Paradise Lost” to make up for the helplessness he felt in this regard.
Million’s description of the events within “Paradise Lost” may be one in an undeniably imaginative, but nevertheless, dry and studious manner in order to prove that he will not forget his years of study merely because he has lost the ability to acquire further knowledge. Milton unquestionably lets light in upon his own Joys and sorrows within this passage; his request for the celestial light to “shine inwards (3. 52)” and illuminate his mind in order for him to better tell his story should be one Wolf is especially familiar with as a contemporary British author.
Wolfs own works, along with the primary viewpoints on literature at the time, often center round the idea of a “turning inwards” within oneself. Milton simply employs this inward turning to better tell his grandiose story of mankind’s fall from Paradise, instead of focusing on a realistic viewpoint of the inner turmoil found within everyday individuals as Wolf chose to (Matt, 63). Another example of emotion seeping through Million’s verbose prose is found within Satin’s soliloquy in Book IV, shortly before he enters Paradise.
Satan speaks at length within this passage about why he has left Heaven and forsaken God despite his status as a high angel, and a assign Wolf claims in her writings is nonexistent within Million’s epic is plain within Satin’s speech. Satan admits freely that what God asked for him to do- namely, to praise God’s name and thank Him for all He had done- was not a difficult task; he says “What could be less than to afford him praise, / The easiest recompense, and pay Him thanks? How due (4. 45-46)! Nevertheless, Satan rebels against these requests, longing to be “quit / The debt immense of endless gratitude / So burdensome-still paying! Still to owe (4. 51-53)! ” Satan seems to have believed that if e could have only reached one step above God, he would be relieved of this hefty burden of owing God for his creation. Satan even admits that “[God] deserved no such return / From me, whom He created what I was (4. 42-43),” a statement that shows that even the devil has doubts about why he should strive to do evil to one who is such a powerful force for good.
The fiend portrays regret even further in lines 79 and 80 in Book l. Ft, he says “Is there no place / Left for repentance, none for pardon refuses to submit for “dread of shame (4. 82)” from the lesser demons that followed IM in his revolt against God. Later on in this same passage, Satan admits that God would be as unlikely to forgive him as Satan would be to ask to be forgiven, because he would be certain to end up with “a worse relapse / And heavier fall (4. 99-100). As a character, Satan is noticeably conflicted at certain points within the text about combating God. Because of Satin’s knowledge that he could neither be forgiven nor ask for forgiveness, he must give up on all hope- “So farewell hope and with hope farewell fear! / Farewell remorse! All good to me is lost. Evil, be thou my good. 4. 107-109. ). ” Though at first glance Satin’s statements read as a triumphant exclamation of Satin’s embrace of evil, upon careful consideration, one can see the sense of loss Satan feels here.
By saying he will lose all that is good in exchange for evil, Satan unintentionally admits that he felt hope and fear at one point, and deemed them beneficial emotions at the time. Million’s personification of Satan in this particular soliloquy has Satan struggling through a range of emotions- regret, doubt, longing, fear, vanity, despair and anger are all evident within his speech. But spite the ardent range of feeling Satan exhibits, Wolf endorses the idea that “Paradise Lost” is made up entirely of “sublime aloofness and impersonality of the emotions. While evidences of the aloofness and impersonality Wolf speaks of are easy to find throughout the text- for an example, consider the tediously academic descriptions of demonic entities found throughout lines 381 to 521 in Book I- a single example of passionate emotion within Million’s poem completely derails her argument that there is no emotion to be found whatsoever. Here, two simple examples of emotion to be found early on in “Paradise Lost” have already been scribed, but that does not mean that these are the only examples of emotion Milton employs.
Satin’s uncertain but fervent feelings are a supremely obvious demonstration of these, but Million’s descriptions of God also portray the author’s personal emotions, though in a much more subtle manner. In Book Ill of “Paradise Lost,” God explains why he created Adam and Eve despite being omniscient and entirely aware of their inevitable fall. He states that “Freely they stood who stood and fell who fell,” telling the Son that He gave all of his creations the ability to stand if hey so choose and the free will to fall if they chose to fall instead.
God seems to spend the majority of Book Ill explaining and defending himself, an action one would not consider typical of a deity. This explanation is Milton speaking through his character about his individual reasoning of why God would chose to allow these circumstances to occur despite being all-powerful and all-knowing. Though the entire conversation between God, the Son and the angels is written using the same “wonderful, beautiful, and masterly descriptions of angels bodies, battles, flights, welling places” that Wolf describes, that does not mean that the conversation says nothing of “the human heart. Instead, Milton uses the character of God to discreetly deliver a message that speaks to his own heart, and provide a defensive point for a common argument made against Million’s faith in God. Milton also uses elaborate imagery through his epic to set a sort of stage in his reader’s heads, allowing the reader to envision characters based on their descriptions within the poem and using these visions to evoke emotion from these theatrical visualization (Bradbury, 78). In perspectives.
Those familiar with John Million’s life will recall “Sensationalist,” a controversial pamphlet he produced in 1649 arguing that regicide is acceptable when dealing with an oppressive monarch (Beer, 247). The arguments contained within Million’s pamphlet are echoed in Satin’s speech about God’s domination of Heaven in lines 84 through 124 during Book l. Satan says “That glory never shall His wrath or might / Extort from me: to bow and sue for grace / With suppliant knee and deify His poor (1. 110-113)” in a direct exclamation of resistance to the idea of leading to a dictatorial power, then goes on to say that their “grand Foe (1 . 22)” “Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven (1. 124). ” To the informed reader, Satin’s statement clearly reiterates Million’s own ideas about a cruel autocrat. Evidently Milton did not agree with the idea that God himself should be seen as a tyrant, as He granted us free will, but Satin’s imperfect viewpoint of God nevertheless reflects the author’s hatred of tyranny. An argument could be made that the same understated meaning Milton uses in his depiction of God and within Satin’s speech in Book I is seed throughout the entire text.
After all, Milton assigns a specific meaning and motive to each character that is entirely original and a product of his own thoughts. Clearly someone who goes to such drastic measures to employ layers of historical and literary depth in his descriptions would not neglect the formulation of ideas that make up the chief narrative within the story. Upon thoughtful consideration of the central themes within the plot of “Paradise Lost,” it is evident that Milton has carefully poured his own heart, along with years of study, experience, and faith, into his poem.