Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 285-290 - Explanation

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Line. 285-290: As when hollow rocks.....After the tempest.

      At the assembly of the fallen angles in Hell, Mammon's advice to found an empire which should rival God's kingdom in Heaven won the widest approval. At the conclusion of his speech there was a great murmur of applause. Milton describes it in this simile.

      The murmur of applause that filled the hall of the assembly was similar to the sounds of blustering winds which fill the hollows of a craggy coast, on the morning after a storm. The winds had blustered or blown violently all through the night, and caused great surges in the sea; but in the morning, when it was calm everywhere around, the winds which had entered the hollows of the rocky coast continued to whistle, and their umpleasant sounds lulled the overwearied mariners, who had anchored their boats or pinnaces alongside it.

      The hollow rocks are said to retain the sound of the blustering winds, because occasional gusts continue to be distinctly audible, whistling through crevices along the rocky coast at time when elsewhere the winds had subsided. The description is distinctly reminiscential of certain lines in Virgil’s Aeneid, where the winds which had been imprisoned by the god Aeolus in caverns are described as murmuring and howling to get free.

      The only point of comparison in the simile is between the murmur of applause and the subdued sounds heard along a craggy coast on the morning after a tempest. The other parts of the simile are purely adventitious and form part of the poetic embroidery. In this respect Milton closely imitates Homer.

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