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Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
She scarce had said, though brief, when now more
The Tempter (but with show of zeal and love
To Man, and indignation at his wrong)
New part puts on; and, as to passion moved,
Fluctuates disturbed, yet comely, and in act
Raised, as of some great matter to begin.
As when of old some orator renowned,
In Athens or free Rome, where eloquence
Flourished (since mute!) to some great cause addressed,
Stood in himself collected; while each part,
Motion, each act, won audience, ere the tongue ;
Sometimes in heighth began, as no delay
Of preface brooking, through his zeal of right:
So standing, moving, or to heighth upgrown,
The Tempter, all impassioned, thus began.
O sacred, wise, and wisdom-giving Plant,
Mother of science! now I feel thy power
Within me clear ; not only to discern
Things in their causes, but to trace the ways
Of highest agents, deemed however wise.
Queen of this universe! do not believe
Those rigid threats of death : ye shall not die :
How should you ? by the fruit ? it gives you life
To knowledge : by the threatener? look on me,
Me, who have touched and tasted ; yet both live,
And life more perfect have attained than Fate
Meant me, by venturing higher than my lot.
Shall that be shut to Man, which to the Beast
Is open ? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain
Of death denounced (whatever thing death be) • Deterred not from achieving what might lead
To happier life, knowledge of good and evil?
Of good, how just ! of evil, (if what is evil
Be real) why not known, since easier shunned?
God therefore cannot hurt ye, and be just :
Not just, not God; not feared then, nor obeyed :
Your fear itself of death removes the fear.
Why then was this forbid ? Why, but to awe;
Why, but to keep ye low and ignorant,
His worshippers : He knows that in the day
Ye eat thereof, your eyes (that seem so clear,
Yet are but dim) shall perfectly be then
Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as Gods,
Knowing both good and evil, as they know.
That ye shall be as Gods, since I as Man,
Internal Man, is but proportion meet;
I, of brute, human ; ye, of human, Gods.
So ye shall die perhaps, by putting off
Human, to put on Gods ; death to be wished,
Though threatened, which no worse than this can
And what are Gods, that man may not become
As they, participating God-like food ?
The Gods are first, and that advantage use
On our belief, that all from them proceeds:
I question it! for this fair earth I
Warmed by the sun, producing every kind;
Them, nothing : if they all things, who enclosed
Knowledge of good and evil in this tree,
That whoso eats thereof, forthwith attains
Wisdom without their leave? and wherein lies
The offence, that Man should thus attain to know?
What can your knowledge hurt him, or this tree
Impart against his will, if all be his?
Or is it envy? and can envy dwell
In heavenly breasts ?—These, these, and many more
Causes import your need of this fair fruit.
Goddess humane, reach then, and freely taste!
He ended ; and his words, replete with guile,
Into her heart too easy entrance won :
Fixed on the fruit she gazed, which to behold
Might tempt alone; and in her ears the sound
Yet rung of his persuasive words, impregn’d
With reason, to her seeming, and with truth :
Meanwhile the hour of noon drew on, and waked
An eager appetite, raised by the smell
So savoury of that fruit, which with desire,
(Inclinable now grown to touch or taste)
Solicited her longing eye: yet first
Pausing a while, thus to herself she mused.
Great are thy virtues, doubtless, best of fruits !
Though kept from man, and worthy to be admired;
Whose taste, too long forborn, at first assay
Gave elocution to the mute, and taught
The tongue not made for speech to speak thy praise :
Thy praise he also, who forbids thy use,
Conceals not from us, naming thee the tree
Of knowledge, knowledge both of good and evil:
Forbids us then to taste ! but his forbidding
Commends thee more, while it infers the good By thee communicated, and our want : For good unknown sure is not had; or, had And yet unknown, is as not had at all. In plain then, what forbids he but to know, Forbids us good, forbids us to be wise ? Such prohibitions bind not. But if death Binds us with after-bands, what profits then Our inward freedom? In the day we eat Of this fair fruit, our doom is, we shall die ! How dies the Serpent ? he hath eaten and lives, And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns, Irrational till then. For us alone Was death invented ? or to us denied This intellectual food, for beasts reserved ?" For beasts it seems : yet that one beast which first Hath tasted envies not, but brings with joy The good befallen him, author unsuspect, Friendly to man, far from deceit or guile. What fear I then? rather, what know to fear Under this ignorance of good and evil, Of God or death, of law or penalty ? Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine ! Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, Of virtue to make wise! What hinders then To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat! Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat, Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe, That all was lost. Back to the thicket slunk
The guilty Serpent; and well might : for Eve,
Intent now wholly on her taste, nought else
Regarded ; such delight till then, as seemed,
In fruit she never tasted, whether true,
Or fancied so, through expectation high
Of knowledge; nor was Godhead from her thought.
Greedily she ingorged without restraint,
And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon,
Thus to herself she pleasingly began.
O sovran, virtuous, precious of all trees
In Paradise ! of operation blest
To sapience, hitherto obscured, infamed,
And thy fair fruit let hang, as to no end
Created : but henceforth my only care,
(Not without song, each morning, and due praise
Shall tend thee, and the fertile burden ease
Of thy full branches, offered free to all :
Till, dieted by thee, I grow mature
In knowledge, as the Gods, who all things know;
Though others envy what they cannot give :
For, had the gift been theirs, it had not here
Thus grown. Experience, next, to thee I owe,
Best guide ! not following thee, I had remained
In ignorance; thou open’st wisdom's way,
And giv'st access, though secret she retire.
And I perhaps am secret : Heaven is high,
High, and remote to see from thence distinct
Each thing on Earth; and other care, perhaps,
May have diverted from continual watch
Our great Forbidder, safe with all his spies