Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 636-643 - Explanation

Also Read

Line. 636-643: As when far off.....the flying Fiend.

      Satan having undertaken to go alone on an expedition to the new material Universe created by God in order to seduce man, puts on swift wings, and soars up to the fiery conclave of Hell. His appearance at this moment is described in this beautiful simile.

      Satan towering high in the vault of Hell is compared to a fleet of vessels which at a distance appears to be only one vessel,' and which seems to hang in the clouds, since the horizon and the sea are indistinguishable at that distance. The classical scholar Bentely criticized the simile by saying that a man of war would have been a more fitting object of comparison than a fleet. But Milton had previously remarked that the tallest mast of a ship would have looked nothing more than a merewand beside Satan's spear. Therefore comparing the archangel himself to a single man of war would be quite inapposite. Milton thus uses the grandest possible comparison to produce the proper impression regarding the power and size of the angels.

      Again in order that a fleet of vessels should constitute a single picture and not the picture of several scattered objects, Milton makes the fleet of vessels a collection of Indiamen, which, like Eastern caravens, generally sailed together. Further they are said to be sailing from the Bay of Bengal to the Cape of Good Hope, contending with the trade winds that blow in the opposite direction from the Indian Ocean; so much so that their progress is not only laborious, slow, and difficult, as that of Satan, but they have also perforce to keep together and appear as one vessel rather than a collection of ships.

      Thus we see that the picture is finely elaborated, and fully worked out to suit the fecial condition. But there are some parts of the comparison which are purely adventurous, and a part of the poetic embroidery, such as the details about the places from which they sail, the trade they carry, etc.

      The poet Wordsworth has observed on the appropriateness of the word hangs, thus: "Here is the full strength of the imagination involved in the word 'hangs,' and exerted upon the whole image. First, the fleet, an aggregate of many ships, is represented as one mighty person, whose tract, we know and feel is upon the waters; but by taking advantage of its appearance to the senses, the poet dares to represent it as hanging in the clouds, both for the gratification of the mind in contemplating the image itself, and interference to the motion and appearance of the sublime objects to which it is compared."

      The passage reveals Milton taking keen interest in the maritime and commercial adventures of the time. He made an exhaustive study of the trade routes in maps, and was thoroughly familiar with all their intricacies of the time.

Previous Post Next Post