Such pleasure took the serpent to behold
This flowery plat, the sweet recess of Eve
Thus early, thus alone; her heavenly form
Angelic, but more soft, and feminine,
Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:
That space the evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge;
But the hot hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordained: then soon
Fierce hate he recollects, and all his thoughts
Of mischief, gratulating, thus excites.
Thoughts, whither have ye led me, with what sweet
Compulsion thus transported to forget
What hither brought us, hate, not love, nor hope
Of paradise for hell, hope here to taste
Of pleasure, but all pleasure to destroy,
Save what is in destroying, other joy
To me is lost. Then let me not let pass
Occasion which now smiles, behold alone
The woman, opportune to all attempts…
Book 9. lines 455-481
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Rob A Mackenzie on Paradise Lost:
Reading the whole of Paradise Lost might seem a daunting task, but it’s worth doing.
I read it over a month from beginning to end, about 350 lines a day, and would recommend that as a strategy. I found the annotations by Alastair Fowler in the Longman edition very useful. Paradise Lost is a terrific story, well told, and it contains some of the best poetry ever written. Once you settle into the 17th century language and syntax, it’s surprisingly easy to read.
It’s written in blank verse (unrhymed five-beat lines) but, within that tight constraint, Milton brilliantly varies the rhythm from line to line by placing greater weight on certain sounds and syllables. The poem is a free instruction manual on how to write in metre, not by slavishly learning ‘rules’, but by learning how to listen.
The poem is rich in ideas, from the fascinating arcane theories on cosmology that existed in Milton’s day to a psychology of human desire that often feels entirely contemporary. Milton’s portrayal of Satan is unforgettable. Satan is tortured, passionate, filled with self-doubt, proud, bitter, courageous, and painfully deluded.
The excerpt from Book IX describes him, as a serpent, spying on Eve. Seeing her almost leads him to forget his mission to corrupt humankind and disarms him of evil. But the hell within him burns and “the more he sees / Of pleasure not for him ordained: then soon/ Fierce hate he recollects.” Satan is so human, determined to succeed, but thwarted by forces and emotions beyond his control. It’s hard not to sympathise with him, although Milton never quite allows his readers to forget that Satan’s only real pleasure is the pleasure of destroying the happiness of others.
There are a few tedious passages and Milton didn’t succeed in portraying God as both perfect and compelling. God is remote and inhuman because giving him human characteristics would have made him immediately imperfect. Milton’s God is impossible to relate to and Satan gets most of the best speeches. But Paradise Lost is still a great read, as gripping as any 21 st century thriller. It takes effort and commitment, but it will repay every hour spent.
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