Page images




[ocr errors]



He rules a momente : Chaos umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroils the fray,
By which he reigns : next him, high arbiter,
Chance governs all. Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature, and perhaps her grave,-
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mix'd
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds ;-
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell', and look'd a while,
Pondering his voyage ; for no narrow frith
He had to cross. Nor was his ear less peald
With noises loud and ruinous, (to compare
Great things with small) than when Bellona storms,
With all her battering engines bent to rase
Some capital city; or less than if this frame
Of heaven were falling, and these elements
In mutiny had from her axle torn
The stedfast earth. At last his sail-broad vans
He spreads for flight, and in the surging smoke
Uplifted spurns the ground; thence many a league,
As in a cloudy chair, ascending rides
Audacious; but, that seat soon failing, meets
A vast vacuity : all unawares
Fluttering his pennons vain, plumb down he drops
Ten thousand fathom deep; and to this hour
Down had been falling, had not by ill chance
The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,
Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him
As many miles aloft: that fury stay'd,
Quench'd in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea,
Nor good dry land : nigh founder'd on he fares,
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flyings; behoves him now both oar and sail".
As when a gryphon, through the wilderness
With winged course, o'er hill or moory dale,

e To whom these most adhere,

He rules a moment.
To whatever side the atoms temporarily adhere, that side rules for the moment.

f Stood on the brink of hell.
Saran pauses for a moment, terrified at the danger of his enterprise.

& Half on foot,

Hal Aying.
Spenser, Faer. Qu. 1. xi. 8:-

Half flying, and half footing in his haste.--NEWTON.

b Behoves him now both oar and sail. It behoveth him now to use both his oars and his sails, as galleys do, according to the proverb,—-remis velisque, with might and main.—Hume.




Pursues the Arimaspian, who by stealth,
Had from his wakeful custody purloin'd
The guarded gold; so eagerly the fiend
O'er bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare',
With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.
At length a universal hubbub wild
Of stunning sounds and voices all confused,
Borne through the hollow dark, assaults his ear
With loudest vehemence: thither he plies,
U'ndaunted to meet there whatever power
Or spirit of the nethermost abyssi
Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask
Which way the nearest coast of darkness lies,
Bordering on light; when straight behold the throne
Of Chaos, and his dark pavilion spread
Wide on the wasteful deep: with him enthroned
Sat sable-vested Night, eldest of things,
The consort of his reign ; and by them stood
Orcus and Ades!, and the dreaded name
Of Demogorgon"; Rumour next, and Chance,
And Tumult and Confusion all imbroil'd ;
And Discord with a thousand various mouths.

To whom Satan turning boldly, thus :-Ye powers,
And spirits of this nethermost abyss,
Chaos and ancient Night, I come no spy,
With purpose to explore or to disturb
The secrets of your realm ; but by constraint
Wandering this darksome desert, -as my way
Lies through your spacious empire up to light,-
Alone, and without guide, half lost, I seek
What readiest path leads where your gloomy bounds

i O'er bog, or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare. The difficulty of Satan's voyage is very well expressed by so many monosyllables as follow, which cannot be pronounced but slowly, and with frequent pauses.—Ngwton.

j The nethermost abyss. Though the throne of Chaos was above hell, and consequently a part of the abyss was so, yet a part of that abyss was at the same time below hell ; so far below, as that, when Satan went from hell on his voyage, he fell in that abyss ten thousand fathom deep; and the poet there adds, that if it had not been for an accident, he had been falling down there to this hour: nay, it was so deep, as to be illimitable, and where highth is lost. The abyss then, considered altogether, was nethermost in respect of hell, below which it was so endlessly extended.-- PEARCE.

k And his dark pavilion spread. Psalm xviii. 11:4" He made darkness his secret place, his pavilion round about him." - DUNSTER.

I Orcus and Ades.
Orcus for Pluto, and Ades for any dark place.-— RICHARDSON.

m Of Demogorgon. The very name of Demogorgon the ancients supposed capable of producing the most terrible effects, which they therefore dreaded to pronounce. He is mentioned as of great power in incantations.-NEWTON.



[ocr errors]





Confine with heaven; or if some other place,
From your dominion won, the ethereal King
Possesses lately, thither to arrive
I travel this profound : direct my course ;
Directed, no mean recompense it brings,
To your behoof, if I that region lost,
All usurpation thence expelld, reduce
To her original darkness and your sway,
Which is my present journey, and once more
Erect the standard there of ancient Night:
Yours be the advantage all, mine the revenge.

Thus Satan ; and him thus the anarch old,
With faltering speech and visage incomposed,
Answer'd :-I know thee, stranger, who thou art ;
That mighty leading angel, who of late
Made head against heaven's King, though overthrown.
I saw and heard ; for such a numerous host
Fled not in silence through the frighted deep,
With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,
Confusion worse confounded ; and heaven gates
Pour'd out by millions her victorious bands
Pursuing. I upon my frontiers here
Keep residence ; if all I can will serve,
That little which is left so to defend,
Encroach'd on still through your intestine broils
Weakening the sceptre of old Night : first hell,
Your dungeon, stretching far and wide beneath ;
Now lately heaven and earth, another world,
Hung o'er my realm, link'd in a golden chain"
To that side heaven from whence your legions fell:
If that way be your walk, you have not far;
So much the nearer danger : go, and speed :
Havock, and spoil, and ruin are my gain.

He ceased; and Satan stay'd not to reply ;
But, glad that now his sea should find a shore,
With fresh alacrity and force renew'd
Springs upward, like a pyramid of fire",

* Link'd in a golden chain. There is mention made in Homer of Jupiter's golden chain, by which he can draw up the gods, and the earth, and sen, and the whole universe ; but they cannot draw him down. See the passage at large in the beginning of the eighth book of the Iliad. It is most probably and ingeniously conjectured, that by this golden chain may be understood the superior attractive force of the sun, whereby he continues unmoved, and draws all the rest of the plancts toward him : but whatever is meant by it, it is certain that our poet took from it the thought of hanging the world by a golden chain.—Newton.

Springs upward, like a pyramid of fire. To take in the full meaning of this magnificent similitude, we must imagine ourselves in Chaos and a vast luminous body rising upward near the place where we are, so swiftly as to appear a continued track of light, and lessening to the view according to the increase of distance, till it end in a point, and then disappear; and all this must be supposed to strike our eye at one instant.--BEATTIE.



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]






Into the wild expanse ; and through the shock
Of fighting elements, on all sides round
Environ'd, wins his way; harder beset
And more endanger'd than when Argo pass'd
Through Bosporus betwixt the justling rocks :
Or when Ulysses on the larboard shunn'd
Charybdis, and by the other whirlpool steer'd.
So he with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on, with difficulty and labour he ;
But he once past, soon after, when man fell,
(Strange alteration !) Sin and Death amain
Following his track, (such was the will of Heaven)
Paved after him a broad and beaten way
Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf
Tamely endured a bridge P of wondrous length,
From hell continued, reaching the utmost orb
Of this frail world; by which the spirits perverse
With easy intercourse pass to and fro
To tempt or punish mortals, except whom
God and good angels guard by special grace.
But now at last the sacred influence
Of light appears, and from the walls of heaven
Shoots far into the bosom of dim Night
A glimmering dawn : here Nature first begins
Her farthest verge, and Chaos to retire
As from her outmost works, a broken foe,
With tumult less and with less hostile din ;
That Satan, with less toil, and now with case,

Wafts on the calmer wave by dubious light9;
Ibid. In Satan's voyage through Chaos there are several imaginary persons described, as
residing in that immense waste of matter. This may perhaps be conformable to the taste
of those critics who are pleased with nothing in a poet which has not life and manners
ascribed to it; but, for my own part, I am pleased most with those passages in this descrip
tion which carry in them a greater measure of probability, and are such as might possibly
have happened : of this kind is his first mounting in the smoke that rises from the infernal
pit; his falling into a cloud of vitro and the like combustible materials, that by their
explosion still hurried him forward in his voyage ; his springing upwards like a pyramid of
firo ; with his laborious passage through that confusion of elements, which the poet calls

The womb of nature, and perhaps her grave. The glimmering light which shot into the Chaos from the utmost verge of the creation, and the distant discovery of the earth, that hung close by the moon, are wonderfully beautiful and poetical. --Addison.

P Tamely endured a bridge. Dr. Newton here agrees with Dr. Bentley in censuring this introduction of the infernal bridge, because it is described in the tenth book, for several lines together, as a thing untouched before, and an incident to surprise the reader; and therefore the poet should not have anticipated it here. Milton is said to have apparently copied this bridge, not as Dr. Warton has conjectured, from the Persian poet Sadi, but from the Arabian fiction of the bridge, called in Arabic Al Sirat, which is represented to extend over the infernal gulf, and to be narrower than a spider's web, and sharper than the edge of a sword.—Pocock in Port. Mos. p. 282. See Annotations on Hist. of Caliph Vathek, 1786, p. 314.-Todd.

9 By dubious light. In this line, and in the preceding description of the “ glimmering dawn" that Satan first





And, like a weather-beaten vessel, holds
Gladly the port, though shrouds and tackle torn;
Or in the emptier waste, resembling air,
Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold
Far off the empyreal heaven, extended wide
In circuit, undetermined square or round,
With opal towers and battlements adorn'd
Of living sapphire, once his native seat;
And fast by, hanging in a golden chain,
This pendent world, in bigness as a star"
Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.
Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge,

Accursed, and in a cursed hour, he hies. meets with, Milton very probably alludes to Seneca's elegant account of Hercules's passage out of hell, Herc. For. 668 :

Non cæca tenebris incipit prima via:
Tenuis relictæ lucis a tergo nitor,
Fulgorque dubius solis afflicti cadit.

THYER. * This pendent world, in bigness as a star. By this pendent world is not meant the earth, but the new creation, heaven and earth, the whole orb of fixed stars immensely bigger than the earth, a mere point in the comparison. This is certain from what Chaos had lately said, v. 1004 :

Now lately heaven and earth, another world,

Hung o'er my realm, link'd in a golden chain. Besides, Satan did not see the earth yet; he was afterwards surprised “at the sudden view of all this world at once,” b. iii. 542. and wandered long on the outside of it, till at last he saw our sun, and learned there of the archangel Uriel, where the earth and paradise were. See b. i. 722. This pendent world, therefore, must mean the whole world—the newCreated universe; and “ beheld far off," it appeared, in comparison with the empyreal heaven, no bigger than a " star of smallest magnitude,” nay, not so large ; it appeared no bigger than such a star appears to be when it is “ close by the moon,” the superior light whereof makes any star that happens to be near her disk to scem exceedingly small, and almost disappear.—Newton.

[ocr errors]


Although the text has not been altered, the following discovery merits to be laid before the accurate readers of Milton. Ver.* 855.

Fearless to be o'ermatch'd by living might. Living might would not except even God himself, the Ever-living and the Almighty. The author therefore gave it, “ by living wight:" as in this same book, ver. 613 :—* All taste of living wight.This expression is established and consecrated by our Chaucer and Spenser.-BENTLEY.

In confirmation of the doctor's happy conecture, “living wightis the reading of Simmons's third edition, 1678, and was probably a correction dictated by Milton, after the second edition was printed. This Dr. Bentley was not aware of.-See Ed. 1678, p. 53.

« PreviousContinue »