Autobiographical Element in Paradise Lost

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      Paradise Lost is an epic, and an epic is a work of objective art. As such, there is hardly any scope for the poet to express himself in an epic poem. But Milton was a self-centered individual, and so, in spite of the fact that he was writing an epic, his personality expressed itself all through the poem. In fact, he revealed himself in all his works, whether he was writing an ode or an elegy or an epic, a masque or a drama. Paradise Lost is Milton’s greatest work, and as Coleridge rightly points out; ‘John Milton is in every line of Paradise Lost.’

      Both the theme and the style of Paradise Lost are expressed of Milton’s personality, his thought, his learning, and his moral, political and religious outlook. Though Milton thought at first of King Arthur and his Round Table as the subject matter of his great epic, it was his puritanism that led him ultimately to the theme of the fall of Man. The puritan Milton with his stem republicanism could not make the legendary King Arthur the hero of his epic. The theme of Paradise Lost - the Fall of Man - is based on the Bible, and it gives an opportunity to the poet to express his religious sentiment. The figure of Satan is partly an embodiment of Milton’s own spirit of freedom, republicanism and stern determination and courage in the teeth of adversity. Satan becomes so heroic and interesting because he possesses in the beginning all the emotional power and sympathy of the poet. When Satan says,

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost-the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield;
And what is else not to be overcome?

      We hear the cry of Milton’s soul. Just as Satan has rebelled against the autocracy of God, so Milton had opposed the aristocracy of Charles I. The republican cause had lost, and Restoration came; but Milton’s spirit remained as invincible as that of Satan after his fall from heaven. It is not only true that Milton was of the Devil’s party, but he actually spoke out his mind through Satan in Book I of Paradise Lost. Again when he speaks of the sons of Belial, he obviously thinks of the gay courtiers of the age of Restoration. In the later books of Paradise Lost, we find him expressing his own sentiments through Adam. Adam was God-fearing and pure-minded as Milton himself was. But he surrendered to Eve, because he was exceedingly susceptible to feminine charm. Milton himself had a similar weakness, and the story of the temptation of Adam has an autobiographical interest. The repentance of Eve, and the subsequent reconciliation between Adam and Eve call to our mind a similar scene between Milton and his first wife.

      Apart from the revelation of Milton through the characters of Satan and Adam, there are occasional references in Paradise Lost to Milton’s blindness. Milton had become totally blind when he wrote Paradise Lost and had fallen upon evil days. The lines describing his misfortune are full of pathos, because they come from the very heart of Milton.

Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day or the sweet approach of even or mom.
Or sight of vernal bloom or summer’s rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead and ever during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off; and, for the book of knowledge fair,
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature’s works, to me expunged and raised
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.

      The whole poem is full of such autobiographical passages. Sometimes they are open and undisguised like the great introductions to the first, third, seventh and ninth books, and sometimes indirect as in the speech of Belial in the Second Book. Belial in his reply to Moloch’s advocacy of open war, says,

And that must end us; that must be our cure.
To be no more. Sad cure! for who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion.

      It is not Belial the fallen angel who is speaking: it is the voice of a highly cultured and intellectual human being with all Greek thought behind him; it is, in short, Milton himself. The passages—both the direct autobiographical confessional passages and the indirect references—are open to criticism, for they are irregular and superfluous, but; as Dr. Johnson justly asked, “Superfluity so beautiful, who should take away?”

      But it is not only in direct references to himself but in the whole tone and temper of his poem that Milton reveals to us his delicate and beautiful nature. “His high seriousness, his proud and resolute will, his grave sadness at the folly of mankind, are interwoven in the whole of his story. Then in the speeches, he will often, as in the speech of Belial, forget altogether who is speaking and where and when, forget Satan and Adam, Eden and Hell, and make his human escape to his own time and country to himself.” (Bailey). When Adam pours out his denunciation of women, it is really Milton who cries out, remembering the miseries of his first marriage;

Oh! why did God,
Creator wise, that peopled highest Heaven
With spirits masculine, create at last
When I approach
Her loveliness, so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say
Seems wisest, virtuousest, di screetest, best.
All higher knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded; Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses, discountenanced, and, like Folly shows; and, to consumate all,
Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat
Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
About her, as a guard angelic placed.
This novelty on Earth, this fair defect
Of Nature, and not fill the World at once
With men as Angels without feminine,

      But Milton, as Raleigh points out, “was not a callous and morose Puritan. He was extraordinarily susceptible to the attractions of feminine grace and beauty. But the idea of the character that he had put before himself caused him passionately to resist this susceptibility. It was the joint in his harness, the main breach in his stoicism, the great anomaly in a life regulated as for his Task-Master.” So, on the one hand, we find Milton composing that beautiful eulogy of Eve (uttered by Adam) in the eighth book:

      On the other hand, we find that the poet makes Raphael disapprove of Adam’s sentimental adoration of Eve.

      Thus the poem is full of passages that recall to us the life of the poet. The most pathetic and perhaps the most universally admired passages are those where Milton speaks in his own person. They may not rival, as Bailey remarks, the daring splendor of the scenes in Hell, nor perhaps the suave and gracious perfection of the evening scene in Paradise in the fourth book, nor can they exhibit the dramatic power of the scene that precedes and still more of those that follow the Fall. But the essence of Milton's genius was rather lyrical than objective. And so none of his characters, divine, diabolic, or human, will ever move us as he moves us himself. The most beautiful of his confessions is to be found in the introduction to the Third Book to which reference has already been made: this passage in his poem and one of the most wonderful things he wrote -

Hail, holy Light, offspring of 1Heaven first-born!
Or of the Eternal co-eternal beam
May I express the unblamed?
Thus with the year
Seasons return; but not to me return
Day or the sweet approach of even or morn

      So much the rather thou, Celestial Light Shine inward and the mind through all her powers Irradiate; there plant eyes; all mist from thence Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell Of things invisible to mortal sight.

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