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At first, as one who sought access, but feared
To interrupt, side-long he works his way.
As when a ship, by skilful steersmen wrought
Nigh river's mouth or foreland, where the wind
Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her sail :
So varied he, and of his tortuous train
Curled many a wanton wreath in sight of Eve,
To lure her eye: she, busied, heard the sound
Of rustling leaves, but minded not, as used
To such disport before her through the field,
From every beast, more duteous at her call,
Than at Circean call the herd disguised.
He, bolder now, uncalled before her stood,
But as in gaze admiring : oft he bowed
His turret crest, and sleek-enamelled neck,
Fawning; and licked the ground whereon she trod.
His gentle dumb expression turned at length
The eye of Eve to mark his play; he, glad
Of her attention gained, with serpent-tongue
Organick, or impulse of vocal air,
His fraudulent temptation thus began.
Wonder not, sovran Mistress ! if perhaps
Thou canst, who art sole wonder; much less arm
Thy looks, the Heaven of mildness, with disdain,
Displeased that I approach thee thus, and gaze
Insatiate ; I thus single; nor have feared
Thy awful brow, more awful thus retired.
Fairest resemblance of thy Maker fair !
Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine
By gift, and thy celestial beauty adore
With ravishment beheld! there best beheld,
Where universally admired; but here
In this enclosure wild, these beasts among,
(Beholders rude, and shallow to discern
Half what in thee is fair) one man except,
Who sees thee? and what is one! who should be seen
A Goddess among Gods, adored and served
By Angels numberless, thy daily train.
So glozed the Tempter, and his proem tuned :
Into the heart of Eve his words made way,
Though at the voice much marvelling : at length,
Not unamazed, she thus in answer spake.
What may this mean? language of man pronounced By tongue of brute, and human sense expressed ? The first, at least, of these I thought denied To beasts; whom God, on their creation-day, Created mute to all articulate sound : The latter I demur; for in their looks Much reason, and in their actions, oft appears. Thee, Serpent, subtlest beast of all the field I knew, but not with human voice endued. Redouble then this miracle, and say, How cam’st thou speakable of mute, and how To me so friendly grown above the rest Of brutal kind, that daily are in sight? Say! for such wonder claims attention due.
To whom the guileful Tempter thus replied. Empress of this fair world, resplendent Eve ! Easy to me it is to tell thee all What thou command'st; and right thou shouldst be
obeyed : I was at first as other beasts that graze
The trodden herb, of abject thoughts and low,
As was my.food; nor aught but food discerned,
Or sex; and apprehended nothing high :
Till on a day, roving the field, I chanced
A goodly tree, far distant, to behold,
Loaden with fruit of fairest colours mixed,
Ruddy and gold : I nearer drew to gaze;
When from the boughs a savoury odour blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense
Than smell of sweetest fennel, or the teats
Of ewe or goat dropping with milk at even,
Unsucked of lamb or kid, that tend their play.
To satisfy the sharp desire I had
Of tasting those fair apples, I resolved
Not to defer ; hunger and thirst at once,
Powerful persuaders ! quickened at the scent
Of that alluring fruit, urged me so keen.
About the mossy trunk I wound me soon ;
For, high from ground, the branches would require
Thy utmost reach or Adam's : round the tree
All other beasts that saw, with like desire
Longing and envying stood, but could not reach.
Amid the tree now got, where plenty hung
Tempting so nigh, to pluck and eat my fill
I spared not; for such pleasure till that hour,
At feed or fountain, never had I found.
Sated at length, ere long I might perceive
Strange alteration in me, to degree
Of reason in my inward powers; and speech
Wanted not long; though to this shape retained.
Thenceforth to speculations high or deep
I turned my thoughts, and with capacious mind
Considered all things visible in Heaven,
Or Earth, or Middle; all things fair and good :
But all that fair and good in thy divine
Semblance, and in thy beauty's heavenly ray,
United I beheld : 'no fair to thine
Equivalent, or second ! which compelled
Me thus, though importune perhaps, to come
And gaze, and worship thee, of right declared
Sovran of creatures, universal Dame !
So talked the spirited sly Snake; and Eve,
Yet more amazed, unwary thus replied.
Serpent! thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The virtue of that fruit, in thee first proved :
But say, where grows the tree? from hence how far ?
For many are the trees of God that grow
In Paradise, and various, yet unknown
To us; in such abundance lies our choice,
As leaves a greater store of fruit untouched,
Still hanging incorruptible, till men
Grow up to their provision, and more hands
Help to disburden Nature of her birth.
To whom the wily Adder, blithe and glad.
Empress! the way is ready, and not long;
Beyond a row of myrtles, on a flat,
Fast by a fountain, one small thicket past
Of blowing myrrh and balm : if thou accept
My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.
Lead then, said Eve. He, leading, swiftly rolled In tangles, and made intricate seem straight,
To mischief swift. Hope elevates, and joy
Brightens his crest; as when a wandering fire,
Compact of unctuous vapour, which the night
Condenses, and the cold environs round,
Kindled through agitation to a flame,
Which oft, they say, some evil spirit attends,
Hovering and blazing with delusive light,
Misleads the amazed night-wanderer from his way
To bogs and mires, and oft through pond or pool ;
There swallowed up and lost, from succour far.
So glistered the dire Snake, and into fraud
Led Eve, our credulous mother, to the tree
Of prohibition, root of all our woe;
Which when she saw, thus to her guide she spake.
Serpent! we might have spared our coming hither,
Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess;
The credit of whose virtues rest with thee ;
Wonderous indeed, if cause of such effects!
But of this tree we may not taste nor touch;
God so commanded, and left that command
Sole daughter of his voice; the rest, we live
Law to ourselves; our reason is our law.
To whom the Tempter guilefully replied.
Indeed! hath God then said that of the fruit
Of all these garden-trees ye shall not eat,
Yet Lords declared of all in earth or air ?
To whom thus Eve, yet sinless. Of the fruit
Of each tree in the garden we may eat;
But of the fruit of this fair tree amidst
The garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat