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Last Updated on October 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1068

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less than he

Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. 

(Book 1)

The speaker is Satan, who has just raised himself from the burning lake and is inspecting the fiery realm of hell, which he is to rule. Milton has already emphasized that Satan’s apparent confidence masks profound despair, and these lines are clearly intended to reassure himself, as well as his companion, Beelzebub, that their position is not hopeless. The quotation begins and ends with pithy aphorisms which stand out in the midst of Satan’s thundering polysyllabic rhetoric. The first is made particularly emphatic by the alliteration and chiasmus in the phrase “a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” The point Satan makes sounds plausible but is immediately undermined by the condition in the third line, which Milton has already shown to be unfulfilled. Satan is not the same as he was in heaven. He is drastically and irrevocably altered. The final line of the quotation, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” is one of the best-known in the poem. It is also undermined by the context, however—in particular, the reference to Satan’s “choice”—when Milton has made it very clear that Satan has been defeated and hurled down into hell. He had no choice in the matter and can only make the best of hell.

For contemplation he and valour formed;

For softness she and sweet attractive grace;

He for God only, she for God in him.

(Book 4)

These words describe the newly created Adam and Eve. Throughout Paradise Lost, Milton insists on strict hierarchy. Disobedience is the great sin, committed first by Satan and the fallen angels, then by Eve, and finally by Adam. Even though there are only two people in the Garden of Eden, there is still a hierarchy, and Adam is continually described as Eve’s superior. His ascendancy is confirmed by a hierarchy of values. Eve is portrayed as the more beautiful of the two, but physical beauty is a less important quality than wisdom or virtue, in both of which Adam excels Eve. The grammatical parallelism of these lines makes the rigid structure of their positions clear: Adam is valiant and thoughtful, Eve is sweet, attractive and soft. Adam is closer to God than Eve, and she therefore worships God partly through her adoration of him.

What thinkest thou then of me, and this my state?

Seem I to thee sufficiently possessed

Of happiness, or not? who am alone

From all eternity; for none I know

Second to me or like, equal much less.

How have I then with whom to hold converse,

Save with the creatures which I made, and those

To me inferior, infinite descents

Beneath what other creatures are to thee?

(Book 8)

God is addressing Adam, who has complained of loneliness in the Garden of Eden. Before providing him with Eve, God asks Adam to reflect on what it is like to be the supreme being, with no possibility of an equal relationship. It is a unique moment in the poem, when God might appear lonely and vulnerable and seems to be confiding...

(This entire section contains 1068 words.)

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in his new creation rather than giving commands. In the course of nine lines, he asks three questions, and it is for the reader to decide whether they are intended to be rhetorical and, if not, what the answers might be. God is so often presented as the source of happiness for the angels and for mortals that it seems daring to the point of blasphemy to ask whether he himself is happy—and even more daring to put the question into the mouth of God himself. Milton has been audacious in his choice of subject, and these lines represent the height of that audacity.

Not less but more heroic than the wrath

Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued

Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage

Of Turnus for Lavinia disespoused;

Or Neptune’s ire, or Juno’s, that so long

Perplexed the Greek, and Cytherea’s son.

(Book 9)

This is a series of clauses within a sentence that runs to thirty-six lines of blank verse, demonstrating two of Milton’s most important stylistic tendencies alongside his characteristic mental attitude. The long, thundering series of enjambments is accompanied by a torrent of allusion. These allusions can often be very obscure, though here they are straightforward and well-known, perhaps because the poet is particularly anxious that the reader should grasp his meaning. He refers first to Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, pursuing Hector round the walls of Troy, then to Virgil’s Aeneid, in which Aeneas (“Cytherea’s son”) did battle with Turnus and endured the animosity of powerful gods. Milton’s confidence in comparing himself favorably with Homer and Virgil would be sheer arrogance in a lesser poet, but he begins the clause by firmly announcing that he has chosen a more heroic subject than those of the classical epics.

Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:

They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,

Through Eden took their solitary way.

(Book 12)

These are the last lines of the poem, describing the departure of Adam and Eve from Paradise. The passage is full of symbolism: tears for sin and sorrow, which are wiped away soon because mankind will be redeemed, holding hands to show companionship and reconciliation, wandering because they are now permanently in error (“errare” being the Latin for both “to err” and “to wander”). The alliteration is particularly pronounced in the penultimate line, giving weight and emphasis to a conclusion which is also a new beginning. As he does throughout the poem, Milton emphasizes the freedom and agency of Adam and Eve, and the second line of the quotation sounds an optimistic note which counters the bitterness and tragedy of what has gone before.




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