Paradise Lost "To Know That Which Before Us Lies In Daily Life Is The Prime Wisdom"

John Milton

"To Know That Which Before Us Lies In Daily Life Is The Prime Wisdom"

Context: In Book VIII of Paradise Lost Adam asks the archangel Raphael about the motions of the heavenly bodies; he is answered, but Raphael exhorts Adam to seek knowledge more worthy of mankind's place in the scheme of creation. Adam thanks Raphael for the information about the heavenly bodies and for the advice, accepting the angel's admonitions. Adam's comments about what constitutes wisdom seem at first restrictive; one might, seeing the lines alone, be tempted to interpret them as a refutation by Milton of science or, as it was known in his day, natural philosophy. One should, rather, see the lines as a protest against barren speculation, not against science:

". . . apt the mind or fancy is to rove
Unchecked, and of her roving is no end;
Till warned, or by experience taught, she learn,
That not to know at large of things remote
From use, obscure and subtle, but to know
That which before us lies in daily life
Is the prime wisdom, what is more, is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence,
And renders us in things that most concern
Unpracticed, unprepared, and still to seek."