Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
V. Selections from “Paradise Lost”
The Temptation
John Milton (1608–1674)
 
From “Paradise Lost,” Book IX.

  THE SUN was sunk, and after him the star
Of Hesperus, whose office is to bring
Twilight upon the Earth, short arbiter
’Twixt day and night, and now from end to end
Night’s hemisphere had veiled the horizon round:        5
When Satan, who late fled before the threats
Of Gabriel out of Eden, now improved
In meditated fraud and malice, bent
On Man’s destruction, maugre what might hap
Of heavier on himself, fearless returned.        10
By night he fled, and at midnight returned
From compassing the Earth;
*        *        *        *        *
                        The orb he roamed
With narrow search; and with inspection deep
Considered every creature, which of all
Most opportune might serve his wiles; and found        15
The serpent subtlest beast of all the field.
Him, after long debate, irresolute
Of thoughts revolved, his final sentence chose
Fit vessel, fittest imp of fraud, in whom
To enter, and his dark suggestions hide        20
From sharpest sight: for, in the wily snake
Whatever sleights, none would suspicious mark,
As from his wit and native subtlety
Proceeding; which, in other beasts observed,
Doubt might beget of diabolic power        25
Active within, beyond the sense of brute.
*        *        *        *        *
For now, and since first break of dawn, the fiend,
Mere serpent in appearance, forth was come;
And on his quest, where likeliest he might find
The only two of mankind, but in them        30
The whole included race, his purposed prey.
In bower and field he sought where any tuft
Of grove or garden-plot more pleasant lay,
Their tendance, or plantation for delight;
By fountain or by shady rivulet        35
He sought them both, but wished his hap might find
Eve separate; he wished, but not with hope
Of what so seldom chanced; when to his wish,
Beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies,
Veiled in a cloud of fragrance, where she stood,        40
Half spied, so thick the roses blushing round
About her glowed.
*        *        *        *        *
“She fair, divinely fair, fit love for gods.
Not terrible, though terror be in love
And beauty, not approached by stronger hate,        45
Hate stronger, under show of love well feigned;
The way which to her ruin now I tend.”
  So spake the enemy of mankind, inclosed
In serpent, inmate bad! and toward Eve
Addressed his way: not with indented wave,        50
Prone on the ground, as since; but on his rear,
Circular base of rising folds, that towered
Fold above fold, a surging maze! his head
Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes;
With burnished neck of verdant gold, erect        55
Amidst his circling spires, that on the grass
Floated redundant: pleasing was his shape
And lovely; never since of serpent-kind
Lovelier.
*        *        *        *        *
So varied he, and of his tortuous train        60
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,        65
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.        70
His gentle dumb expression turned at length
The eye of Eve, to mark his play; he, glad
Of her attention gained, with serpent-tongue
Organic, or impulse of vocal air,
His fraudulent temptation thus began.        75
  “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        80
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,        85
Where universally admired; but here
In this inclosure 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        90
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.
*        *        *        *        *
[After some discourse, the Tempter praises the Tree of Knowledge.]
So standing, moving, or to height up grown,
The tempter, all impassioned, thus began.        95
  “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.        100
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,        105
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        110
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        115
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;        120
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,        125
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        130
Human, to put on gods; death to be wished,
Though threatened, which no worse than this can bring.
And what are gods, that man may not become
As they, participating godlike food?
The gods are first, and that advantage use        135
On our belief, that all from them proceeds:
I question it; for this fair Earth I see,
Warmed by the Sun, producing every kind;
Them, nothing: if they all things, who inclosed
Knowledge of good and evil in this tree,        140
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?        145
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.”
 
 
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