Last Updated on January 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1927
The poet invokes the muse Urania, but he makes it clear that it is “the meaning, not the name” that he is calling forth. His muse is not one of the nine sisters who was born on Mount Olympus but is “heavenly born” instead. Wisdom is her sister, and the...
(The entire section contains 1927 words.)
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The poet invokes the muse Urania, but he makes it clear that it is “the meaning, not the name” that he is calling forth. His muse is not one of the nine sisters who was born on Mount Olympus but is “heavenly born” instead. Wisdom is her sister, and the two played in the presence of the “Almighty Father” before the hills were created. The poet asks the muse to guide him safely down to earth, his native element, from his wanderings in heaven. His poem is only half sung, but he now feels safer and more familiar with mortal things on earth despite the danger and “evil days” that have come upon him. He asks the muse to find an audience for his words and to drive away “Bacchus” and his “revellers,” who threaten him with their “barbarous dissonance” and their drunken violence.
Raphael has already warned Adam and Eve, with the example of Satan’s fall, that they are subject to the same fate in paradise if they disobey God’s commands. Since Raphael has described the war in heaven for their instruction, Adam now asks him to impart further knowledge about how the world was created and for what purpose. He has the desire to know so that he can glorify God for all his works. They have time, Adam says, since night has not yet fallen, or, if need be, they could delay the coming of night to allow time for the story. Raphael replies that he has been instructed by God to give “knowledge within bounds.” Knowledge is like food that is to be absorbed with temperance, or it will soon turn “wisdom to folly.”
Raphael begins by explaining that the expulsion of Satan and the angels has “dispeopled Heaven.” To repair the loss, God decides to create another world with a new race of men who would, “by degrees of merit,” raise themselves to the level of heaven into one happy kingdom without end. God appoints the Son to perform the creation of the world and set the boundaries of heaven and earth.
The angels rejoice in adoration of God for creating good out of evil by bringing a new race into their “vacant room” in heaven. The Son, crowned with the radiance of the Father, leaves on his chariot to create the world. As he approaches, the gates of heaven open wide to let the King of Glory pass through. The Son stands on the edge of the “heavenly ground” as he views the vast abyss that appears “as a sea, dark, wasteful,” and “wild.” Chaos hears him call out, to silence the “troubled waves.” He then uses God’s golden compasses to circumscribe the universe and form heaven and earth. The Spirit of God spreads his wings over the water, instilling it with warmth. He solidifies the elements and shapes them into the form of a globe.
God calls forth the light, and it appears in a “radiant cloud,” for the sun has not been created yet. He then divides the light and calls it day, and the darkness is called night. The celestial choirs joyously sing praises for the first day of creation.
On the second day, God creates the firmament “amid the waters,” far removed from chaos so there will be nothing to disturb its form. He names the firmament heaven, and the heavenly angels again sing joyously.
God gathers the waters together that appear “over all the face of Earth” and, on the third day, orders dry land to appear. Mountains rise and rivers are channeled into the seas, and God knows that it is good. He then calls for the earth to cover its barren fields and put forth tender grass, fruit trees, flowering plants, clustering vines, shrubs, and bushes. A “dewy mist” rises to water the plants, and earth now seems like heaven, where the “gods might dwell.”
On the fourth day, God creates the planets, the stars, the moon, and the sun that direct the days, the years, and the seasons. He then calls on the waters to generate the reptiles, the “great whales,” and the fish, and creates the birds that fly in the air, which solemnizes the fifth day of creation.
On the last day of creation, the sixth, God orders the earth to bring forth the beasts. Earth opens “her fertile womb,” and living creatures rise up out of the ground, either solitary, in pairs, or in herds, and shake the dirt off their backs. Insects, worms, snakes, and numberless creatures that crawl on the ground are then created.
The “master work,” above the brute and endowed with reason, has not yet appeared. God speaks to the Son, telling him he should now create man in their image. The Son forms Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathes the breathe of life into his nostrils, and he becomes a living soul. He creates Adam as a male and his consort, Eve, as a female, telling them to be fruitful and multiply. He gives them dominion over all living creatures and allows them to taste all the pleasant fruits of the garden except one: the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.
When the creator is finished at the end of the sixth day, he looks at all he has made and says it is “entirely good.” He returns to heaven, where he is welcomed at the “everlasting gates” with the symphonic music of 10,000 angelic harps.
On the seventh day, the Son sits down with his Father and rests from his labors as he blesses and hallows the Sabbath. The day is spent resting from work and singing hallelujahs in celebration of God’s new creation. Raphael has now filled Adam’s request to describe the creation of the world and asks whether he has any other questions that stay within the bounds of human understanding.
In the opening lines of book 7, the poet invokes the muse Urania, the classical muse of astronomy. She was one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. As attendants of Apollo, the god of poetry, the muses were routinely called on by poets before they began to write. The Christian poets often referred to Urania as “the heavenly” and called on her for divine inspiration. In his reference to Urania, the poet names her but is quick to qualify his allusion to her by associating her in “meaning” only with the muse that is “heavenly born.” His muse’s sister is named Wisdom, and the two siblings have played together in the presence of God before the hills were formed. This alludes to Proverbs 8:29–30. “When he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I [Wisdom] was with him, as one brought up with him.” In this way Milton associates his muse with the Holy Spirit, the muse of Moses, but enriches the epic with the traditions of the classics. This is also reminiscent of his invocation to the “Heavenly Muse” in book 1, where he calls on the muse who inspired Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20).
In book 7 the poet has left the war in heaven and will now stand on earth, where he feels safer using his own “mortal voice” though he has “fallen on evil days.” Many commentators believe that the “evil days” are a reference to the time after the Restoration of Charles II, when Milton was in grave danger. He had supported the execution of Charles I in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates and championed the Puritan cause as Latin Secretary under Oliver Cromwell. He was arrested for his political crimes but was eventually released.
The poet continues by comparing his own fate to that of Orpheus, the Thracian bard, who was torn limb from limb by the crowd when he would not join their frenzied celebration of Bacchus. The muse is Calliope, one of the nine, who could not save him though she was his mother. Milton sees himself as Orpheus, a poet living in an antagonistic society. The “barbarous dissonance” is a reference to the unruly crowds in London after the Restoration. Milton also uses the myth of Orpheus in “Lycidas” (lines 57–63) to question his own high artistic standards that are not appreciated by his contemporaries.
In book 7 we realize that Adam’s curiosity has not been satisfied by Raphael’s account of the war in heaven. He has a further “desire to know” what transpired when the world began, and he asks Raphael to tell him about the creation of Eden “before his memory.” He craves this knowledge just as one would crave water.
as one whose drouth
Yet scarce allayed still eyes the current stream,
Whose liquid murmur heard new thirst excites.
His desire for knowledge is artistically woven through the passage with metaphors of thirst. “Drouth, stream, liquid murmur, and thirst” are expressive of Adam’s longing to know. He quickly checks his longing, however, claiming he has no intention of going beyond God’s limits of forbidden knowledge. “If unforbid thou mayst unfold / What we, not to explore the secrets ask / Of his eternal empire.” Raphael answers him with still another metaphor, equating knowledge to food that “needs no less her temperance over appetite.” The archangel has been instructed by God to answer Adam’s questions “within bounds.” Excessive knowledge, Raphael says, will turn “wisdom to folly.”
As the Son approaches the gates of heaven, he hears the “harmonious sound” and sees the “golden hinges moving” to allow the “King of Glory” to pass. He then goes forth into chaos to create the world. This is reminiscent of Satan, who also goes forth into chaos in book 2, but, in contrast to the Son, Satan seeks revenge by corrupting God’s creation. The gates of hell contrast sharply with the gates of heaven. With a “jarring sound . . . their hinges grate / Harsh thunder” (book 2, lines 881–82) as they are unlocked to let Satan pass through.
The Son’s first act of creation is to silence the troubled waves and pronounce peace upon the deep. The allusion is to the words of Jesus of Galilee. “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Milton portrays the Son with the same divine power that he demonstrates as the Son of Man on Earth.
The Scriptures also lend authority to Milton’s image of the “golden compasses” by which the Son circumscribes a section of chaos for the creation of heaven and earth. “When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth” (Proverbs 8:27).
The creation of the leviathan, “hugest of living creatures,” is reminiscent of the leviathan that is analogous to the size of Satan who is chained on the burning lake in book 1 (book 1, line 201). Milton’s source was the Bible (Job 41:1). It is often thought that the leviathan in the Bible is a whale, but Milton makes a distinction between the two by also creating a whale.
As Raphael ends his story, the angels are glorifying the Son on the Sabbath day with songs of praise for his act of creation. They tell the Son that “to create / Is greater than created to destroy.” They feel he is more noble now that he returns from his act of creation than he was when he returned from driving Satan and his angels out of heaven. “To create” is greater than “to destroy.”