Paradise Lost

December 21, 2006 at 6:16 am 2 comments

John Milton

Listen

yet not for those,
Nor what the Potent Victor in his rage
Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
Though chang’d in outward lustre; that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,
That with the mightiest rais’d me to contend,
And to the fierce contention brought along
Innumerable force of Spirits arm’d
That durst dislike his reign, and me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power oppos’d
In dubious Battel on the Plains of Heav’n,
And shook his throne. 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?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deifie his power,
Who from the terrour of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc’t,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n.

And we’re back. I know it’s been almost a month since my last post, but that’s the kind of month it’s been. Anyway, I’m back, and we’re starting the war theme we promised you all those weeks ago. Hopefully, we’ll manage to get back to regular programming.

And so, to Man’s first disobedience. You can’t run a series on war poetry without including that most apocalyptic battle of all – the battle between Hell and Heaven, between Good and Evil – the first book of Paradise Lost. We use the phrase Devil’s Advocate glibly in our everyday speech, but if there was ever a poet who gave Lucifer a voice, ever a poet who gave roaring and majestic tongue to that mightiest of the Fallen Angels, it was Milton.

Today’s extract will seem familiar to Steinbeck fans, but it is in fact, just part of a larger monologue, picked at random from a book that is pure fire and brimstone – easily one of the most eloquent pieces of writing in the English language.

[falstaff]

N.B.

Not only is Paradise Lost Book I a fascinating read for lovers of fine poetry, it is also a text that takes on astonishing relevance in the context of the war on terror. Later on in the text Milton writes:

Henceforth his might we know, and know our own
So as not either to provoke, or dread
New warr, provok’t; our better part remains [ 645 ]
To work in close design, by fraud or guile
What force effected not: that he no less
At length from us may find, who overcomes
By force, hath overcome but half his foe.

It’s something the planners of Operation Iraqi Freedom would do well to keep in mind.

Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, John Milton, War Poetry. Tags: .

Three Small Oranges A Note on War Poetry

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Revealed  |  January 3, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    ‘…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?’

    Milton *sigh*. You’ve gotta love the language. Kinda looking forward to the War Poetry (does that make me macabre?), if only cos its so stirring

    Reply
  • 2. Paradise Lost, Book IV (extract) « pō’ĭ-trē  |  March 2, 2008 at 4:21 am

    […] It’s been a very Milton-centric week in my online world. First this post (and the discussion in the comments space) by Daisy Fried over at Harriet about the delights of Milton’s verse and his accessibility to modern readers, then this piece today by Claire Tomalin in the Guardian Book Review. So I figured it was time we posted another extract from Paradise Lost (see earlier post here). […]

    Reply

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