Page images
PDF
EPUB

is minutely studied and considered. The hoary Deep” is from Job (xli. 32). "The denial to the contents of Chaos of bound, dimension, length, breadth, height, time and place, gives as it were a sudden wrench or shock to the imagination ; inasmuch as, at the very moment when the poet is compelling his readers vividly to fancy the upward darkness as a vast material deep, he snatches from them those very qualities which are inseparable from the thought of matter, and which, by the structure of our minds, constitute conceivability. Then, in the phrase " eldest Night and Chaos, ancestors of Nature,there is also a dense compost of difficult conceptions; for “ Nature" here is used in the sense of “Creation” or “the created Universe in all its parts," and there is a reference to Night and Chaos as preceding all Creation, and as being that out of the stuff and in the very body of which Creation, in its two then existing dominions (Hell beneath and the Starry Universe in the centre), had been cut or generated. Again, in the struggle of the four champions, Hot, Cold, Moist, and Dry, for the mastery of the atoms of Chaos, and in the momentary sovereignty of each, according to the momentary majority of his adherent atoms, there is a reference to the old Physical and Physiological system, which accounted for changes in nature and in the human body by the doctrine of four principles or humours—Heat, Cold, Moisture, and Drought-contending with each other and causing combinations. Farther on we have introduced, also from the obsolete schools of physical science, the four elements—Sea (i.e. Water), Shore (i.e. Earth), Air, and Fire-with the assertion that Chaos did not consist of these or of any of them, but of the seeds or pregnant causes of them all intermixed. In the same sentence we have two additional suggestions, calculated to stun the mind, already perplexed enough-the one, that possibly the Creator may yet form more worlds out of the chaotic stuff, and so extend "Nature ;" the other that, as all Nature, extant or future, is from the womb of Chaos, so perhaps all will relapse into Chaos again. Altogether it would be difficult to quote a passage from any poet so rich in purposely accumulated perplexities, learned and poetical, or in which such care is taken, and so successfully, to compel the mind to a rackingly intense conception of sheer Inconceivability.

899. mastery": in the original “maistrie."

921, 922. (" to compare great things with small.") A phrase, as Hume noted, from Virgil, Parvis componere magna (Ec. i. 24).

922. Bellona": the goddess of War.

924–927. "or less than if this frame of heaven (i.e. the sky of our Universe) were falling, and these elements in mutiny (i.e. the four elements losing their balance) had,” &c.

927 vans: i.e. "fans,” wings.

.

928-942. surging smoke
surging smoke . . . cloudy chair."

cloudy chair." We have already been told (888, 889) that, on the opening of Hell-gates, there was a sudden upward rush of flame and smoke into Chaos. On this gust Satan is for a while borne aloft vehemently. Its force spent, he begins to fall, till another explosion carries him again up." That fury stayed": i.e. the force of this explosion ending—" quenched(a fit word for a fiery explosion)“ in a boggy Syrtis," &c.—he is able by toil of wing and foot to continue the ascent. The Syrtes were two quicksands on the African coast of the Mediterranean.

933. fathom: in the original “ fadom.

943—947. As when a gryphon . . . pursues the Arimaspian," &c. Explained by Bishop Newton as follows: "Gryphons are fabulous creatures, in the upper part like an eagle, in the lower resembling a lion, and are said to guard gold mines. The Arimaspians were a one-eyed people of Scythia, who adorned their hair with gold (see Lucan's Pharsal. III. 280). Herodotus and other authors relate that there were continual wars between the gryphons and the Arimaspians about gold ; the gryphons guarding it, and the Arimaspians taking it whenever they had opportunity (see Pliny, Nat. Hist. vii. 2)." 944.

moory dale" : in the original moarie.956. "the nethermost Abyss”: the lowest portion of the Abyss. Satan had already ascended far, and was now at least half through the Abyss (see lines 1007, 1008); but he may be supposed not to have known that.

959–967. the throne of Chaos,&c. Here we have another cluster of what may be called metaphysical Entities, placed by Milton in or near the heart of Chaos-Chaos himself, personified as King of the Abyss; his consort, Night; and around their throne Orcus and Ades (two vague names for Pluto, or his realm, among the ancients), Rumour, Chance, Tumult, Confusion, and Discord, together with “ the dreaded name of Demogorgon." This last awful personage, it is said, is first distinctly named in the Christian writer Lactantius, who lived in the beginning of the fourth century. But, in so naming him, Lactantius is believed to have broken the spell of a great mystery. For, though never named by the ancients, he was known to them. “ Lucan's famous witch Erectho,” says Bentley, "threatens the Infernal Powers that were slow in their obedience to her, that she could call upon some being at whose name the Earth always trembled.” Now this being, of whose tremendous powers other ancient poets besides Lucan make mention, though they also abstain from the name, is supposed to be the Demogorgon of Lactantius. He is, accordingly, included among the ancient gods by later writers on Mythology; and Milton himself speaks of him in one of his Latin prose-writings as a primeval or ancestral god of the Classic

mythology, probably the same as Chaos. Boccaccio mentions Demogorgon (and, indeed, Bentley supposes Boccaccio to have first coined the word); so do Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser. Thus Spenser, speaking of Night

“O thou, most auncient grandmother of all,

More old than Jove, whom thou at first didst breede,
Or that great house of gods celestiall;
Which wast begot in Demogorgon's hall
And sawst the secrets of the world unmade.”

F. Q. I. v. 22.

And again, of the three weird sisters

“ Doune in the bottom of the deepe Abysse,

Where Demogorgon, in dull darknesse pent,
Farre from the view of gods and Heaven's blisse,
The hideous Chaos keepes, their dreadfull dwelling is.”

Ib. iv. ii. 47.

Milton, therefore, had good authority for placing Demogorgon in Chaos, and he speaks of him properly as “the dreaded name."

969. "this nethermost Abyss." See note on line 956.

972. The secrets of your realm.See the first of the two passages from Spenser in note on lines 959–967.

977–987. “or, if some other place, from your dominion won ... mine the revenge." The exact meaning of this passage is worth attending to.

Satan asks Chaos and Night to direct him the nearest way to Heaven; or, if (as he surmises) the new Universe of which he is in search has by this time been cut or scooped out of the upper part of Chaos immediately under Heaven, then to direct him the nearest way thither. As this new Universe is a space seized and subtracted from the ancient dominion of Chaos,—a bit of upper Chaos, so to speak, forcibly reclaimed by the Deity, organized, and appended to HeavenSatan naturally appeals to the resentment of the Powers of Chaos, and promises them that, if they assist him, he will do his best to re-conquer the lost territory and reduce it back to Darkness.

984. To her original darkness." See note, Book I. 254.

998—1009. “I upon my frontiers here," &c. Satan has judged rightly. The old Anarch, the lord of Chaos, is in a state of resentment. He is grieving over the recent curtailment of his ancient Empire, nay, two successive acts of curtailment—first in the conversion of the bottom of Chaos into the new Hell or Infernal World for Satan himself and is fellows; and, next, in the excavation of “Heaven and Earth," 'r the new starry Universe of Man, out of Chaos atop. [Notice at Heaven in the phrase “ Heaven and Earth" in line 1004 is used

hi

in quite a different sense from that in which it has been mostly used in the poem hitherto, and in which it is immediately afterwards used in line 1006—the “Heaven and Earth" of the former line being actually hung, like a pendent, from the vaster “ Heaven” of the latter.) These two excisions from his Empire, below and atop, have left him, he ruefully says, but little now to defend. To defend what is left, he is keeping residence on his "frontiers ”—i.e. on his upper frontier towards the new Universe; for, a few lines on (1007, 1008), he tells Satan that he has not now far to go. As, however, the excavation of the starry Universe had cut down into Chaos on that side, the Court or residence of the Anarch, though now on the frontier of Chaos, may have been still near its original centre; and it may have been the not allowing for this encroachment upon Chaos atop (which had happened since the descent of the Angels through it) that made Satan suppose he was still not more than half through Chaos (see notes, lines 956 and 969) when he was really much farther up.

1001, 1002. Encroached on still through our intestine broils weakening,&c.

So in all the original editions ; but Dr. Pearce (1732) proposed "your" instead of "our," and most subsequent editors have accepted the emendation as necessary. It is evident, they say, that

our" must have been a misprint, because the Anarch did not mean that Chaos was encroached upon through the broils of himself and his companions, but referred to the broils of Satan and the Angels. Notwithstanding this unanimity, I return to the old reading—which I believe to have been Milton's own. It is really superior to the other. For it would have been not strictly correct, and more than polite, for the Anarch, in addressing Satan here, to have attributed the diminution of his own Empire to intestine broils among those Fallen Angels whom his hearer represented. There were no such broils. If, indeed, he spoke to Satan as representing all the Angels, celestial as well as fallen, he might then have used the phrase "your intestine broils.” But such a supposition is not needed. “My Empire is being weakened by these intestine broils going on among us” is what the Anarch said and might well say, using a form of speech which implicated all existing beings, and none particularly.

1013. "like a pyramid of fire": a magnificent simile, suggesting the dwindling radiance of the Angel's bulk as it shoots rapidly upward from the sight through what remains of Chaos.

1017—1020. than when Argo”-i.e. the ship in which Jason went to Colchis for the golden fleece, " passed through Bosporus-i.e. through the straits into the Black Sea, betwixt the justling rocks-i.e. betwixt the Symplegades, two rocks at the entrance of the Black Sea; “

or when Ulysses on the larboard shunned Charybdis-i.e. kept to the left of it, and by the other Whirlpool steered-i.e. by Scylla.

1023-1028. “But, he once passed . a bridge of wondrous length.The building of this bridge between Hell and the Human Universe is afterwards described at length (Book X. 235 et seq.).

1029, 1030. reaching the utmost Orb of this frail World: i.e, not the outermost star or the star nearest Chaos, but the outermost boss or circle of the starry sphere as a whole. This will be explained more clearly farther on. See Book III. 418—420, and note there.

1033. God and good Angels.Todd quotes the phrase from Shakespeare (Rich. III. V. i.): "God and good angels fight on Richmond's side.” Perhaps it was proverbial.

1034-1037. But now at last . . . from the walls of Heaven," &c. Heaven is here used in its vaster sense, as implying not the heaven of our world, but the pre-existing Infinity of Light over Chaos. It is this that shoots down a glimmering influence through the upper part of the Darkness.

1037. “ Nature." See note, lines 891-916.
1038. farthest verge”: in the original editions “fardest.

1041--1047. That (i.e. So that) Satan with less toil,&c. Observe the gradual diminution of density in the element in which Satan is moving as he approaches the light. It is first “a calmer wave"-1.0. still comparable to a liquid, though a liquid no longer in commotion ; but, three lines on, it is the emptier (i.e. the more rarefied) waste, resembling air."

1047. Empýreal”: so always accented in Milton, while the form Empyréan, whether as a substantive or as an adjective, is always accented on the penultimate.

1048. "undetermined square or round." The figure of Heaven cannot be determined even by the far-ranging eye of Satan ascending from Chaos ; and this either because really it has no bounds (though the imagination, compelled to select some figure even for Infinity, generally thinks of it as a sphere), or because, Satan's eye being directed straight upwards, it is but such an undefined portion of the overstretching dome that he sees as might be seen of our Heaven by a diver re-ascending through transparent water in mid-ocean.

1051. “And, fast by"-.e. fast by Heaven-hanging in a golden chain” (an adaptation, which the poet has already suggested in lines 1005, 1006, of Homer's metaphor of the golden chain fastened to the throne of Zeus, by which he “ can draw up the gods and the earth and the sea and the whole universe" when he pleases), “this pendent World,” &c.—The reader must be careful not to misunderstand this passage. The “pendent World” is not our planet Earth ; and it is not meant that what Satan saw was this planet of ours with the Moon by her side.

« PreviousContinue »