Home  »  Complete Poems Written in English  »  Paradise Lost: The Eleventh Book

John Milton. (1608–1674). Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


Paradise Lost: The Eleventh Book

THE ARGUMENT.—The Son of God presents to his Father the prayers of our first parents now repenting, and intercedes for them. God accepts them, but declares that they must no longer abide in Paradise; sends Michael with a band of Cherubim to dispossess them, but first to reveal to Adam future things: Michael’s coming down. Adam shews to Eve certain ominous signs: he discerns Michael’s approach; goes out to meet him: the Angel denounces their departure. Eve’s lamentation. Adam pleads, but submits: the Angel leads him up to a high hill; sets before him in vision what shall happen till the Flood.

THUS they, in lowliest, plight, repentant stood

Praying; for from the Mercy-seat above

Prevenient grace descending had removed

The stony from their hearts, and made new flesh

Regenerate grow instead, that sighs now breathed

Unutterable, which the Spirit of prayer

Inspired, and winged for Heaven with speedier flight

Than loudest oratory. Yet their port

Not of mean suitors; nor important less

Seemed their petition than when the ancient Pair

In fables old, less ancient yet than these,

Deucalion and chaste Pyrrha, to restore

The race of mankind drowned, before the shrine

Of Themis stood devout. To Heaven their prayers

Flew up, nor missed the way, by envious winds

Blown vagabond or frustrate: in they passed

Dimensionless through heavenly doors; then, clad

With incense, where the Golden Altar fumed,

By their great Intercessor, came in sight

Before the Father’s Throne. Them the glad Son

Presenting thus to intercede began:—

“See, Father, what first-fruits on Earth are sprung

From thy implanted grace in Man—these sighs

And prayers, which in this golden censer, mixed

With incense, I, thy priest, before thee bring;

Fruits of more pleasing savour, from thy seed

Sown with contribution in his heart, than those

Which, his own hand manuring, all the trees

Of Paradise could have produced, ere fallen

From innocence. Now, therefore, bend thine ear

To supplication; hear his sighs, though mute;

Unskilful with what words to pray, let me

Interpret for him, me his Advocate

And propitiation; all his works on me,

Good or not good, ingraft; my merit those

Shall perfet, and for these my death shall pay.

Accept me, and in me from these receive

The smell of peace toward Mankind; let him live,

Before thee reconciled, at least his days

Numbered, though sad, till death, his doom (which I

To mitigate thus plead, not to reverse),

To better life shall yield him, where with me

All my redeemed may dwell in joy and bliss,

Made one with me, as I with thee am one.”

To whom the Father, without cloud, serene:—

“All thy request for Man, accepted Son,

Obtain; all thy request was my decree.

But longer in that Paradise to dwell

The law I gave to Nature him forbids;

Those pure immortal elements, that know

No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul,

Eject him, tainted now, and purge him off,

As a distemper, gross, to air as gross,

And mortal food, as may dispose him best

For dissolution wrought by sin, that first

Distempered all things, and of incorrupt

Corrupted. I, at first, with two fair gifts

Created him endowed—with Happiness

And Immortality; that fondly lost,

This other served but to eternize woe,

Till I provided Death: so Death becomes

His final remedy, and, after life

Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined

By faith and faithful works, to second life,

Waked in the renovation of the just,

Resigns him up with Heaven and Earth renewed.

But let us call to synod all the Blest

Through Heaven’s wide bounds; from them I will not hide

My judgments—how with Mankind I proceed,

As how with peccant Angels late they saw,

And in their state, though firm, stood more confirmed.”

He ended, and the Son gave signal high

To the bright Minister that watched. He blew

His trumpet, heard in Oreb since perhaps

When God descended, and perhaps once more

To sound at general doom. The angelic blast

Filled all the regions: from their blissful bowers

Of amarantin shade, fountain or spring,

By the waters of life, where’er they sate

In fellowships of joy, the Sons of Light

Hasted, resorting to the summons high,

And took their seats, till from his Throne supreme

The Almighty thus pronounced his sovran will:—

“O Sons, like one of us Man is become

To know both Good and Evil, since his taste

Of that defended Fruit; but let him boast

His knowledge of good lost and evil got,

Happier had it sufficed him to have known

Good by itself and evil not at all.

He sorrows now, repents, and prays contrite—

My motions in him; longer than they move,

His heart I know how variable and vain,

Self-left. Lest, therefore, his now bolder hand

Reach also of the Tree of Life, and eat,

And live for ever, dream at least to live

For ever, to remove him I decree,

And send him from the Garden forth, to till

The ground whence he was taken, fitter soil,

Michael, this my behest have thou in charge:

Take to thee from among the Cherubim

Thy choice of flaming warriors, lest the Fiend,

Or in behalf of Man, or to invade

Vacant possessions, some new trouble raise;

Haste thee, and from the Paradise of God

Without remorse drive out the sinful pair,

From hallowed ground the unholy, and denounce

To them, and to their progeny, from thence

Perpetual banishment. Yet, lest they faint

At the sad sentence rigorously urged

(For I behold them softened, and with tears

Bewailing their excess), all terror hide.

If patiently thy bidding they obey,

Dismiss them not disconsolate reveal

To Adam what shall come in future days,

As I shall thee enlighten; intermix

My covenant in the Woman’s seed renewed.

So send them forth, though sorrowing, yet in peace;

And on the east side of the Garden place,

Where entrance up from Eden easiest climbs,

Cherubic watch, and of a Sword the flame

Wide-waving, all approach far off to fright,

And guard all passage to the Tree of life;

Lest Paradise a receptácle prove

To Spirits foul, and all my trees their prey,

With whose stolen fruit Man once more to delude.”

He ceased, and the Archangelic Power prepared

For swift descent; with him the cohort bright

Of watchful Cherubim. Four faces each

Had, like a double Janus; all their shape

Spangled with eyes more numerous than those

Of Argus, and more wakeful than to drowse,

Charmed with Arcadian pipe, the pastoral reed

Of Hermes, or his opiate rod. Meanwhile,

To resalute the World with sacred light,

Leucothea waked, and with fresh dews imbalmed

The Earth, when Adam and first matron Eve

Had ended now their orisons, and found

Strength added from above, new hope to spring

Out of despair, joy, but with fear yet linked;

Which thus to Eve his welcome words renewed:—

“Eve, easily may faith admit that all

The good which we enjoy from Heaven descends;

But that from us aught should ascend to Heaven

So prevalent as to concern the mind

Of God high-blest, or to incline his will,

Hard to belief may seem. Yet this will prayer,

Or one short sigh of human breath, upborne

Even to the seat of God. For, since I sought

By prayer the offended Deity to appease,

Kneeled and before him humbled all my heart,

Methought I saw him placable and mild,

Bending his ear; persuasion in me grew

That I was heard with favour; peace returned

Home to my breast, and to my memory

His promise that thy seed shall bruise our Foe;

Which, then not minded in dismay, yet now

Assures me that the bitterness of death

Is past, and we shall live. Whence hail to thee!

Eve rightly called, Mother of all Mankind,

Mother of all things living, since by thee

Man is to live, and all things live for Man.”

To whom thus Eve with sad demeanour meek:—

“Ill-worthy I such title should belong

To me transgressor, who, for thee ordained

A help, became thy snare; to me reproach

Rather belongs, distrust and all dispraise.

But infinite in pardon was my Judge,

That I, who first brought death on all, am graced

The source of life; next favourable thou,

Who highly thus to entitle me voutsaf’st,

Far other name deserving. But the field

To labour calls us, now with sweat imposed,

Though after sleepless night; for see! the Morn,

All unconcerned with our unrest, begins

Her rosy progress smiling. Let us forth,

I never from thy side henceforth to stray,

Where’er our day’s work lies, though now enjoined

Laborious, till day droop. While here we dwell,

What can be toilsome in these pleasant walks?

Here let us live, though in fallen state, content.”

So spake, so wished, much-humbled Eve; but Fate

Subscribed not. Nature first gave signs, impressed

On bird, beast, air—air suddenly eclipsed,

After short blush of morn. Nigh in her sight

The bird of Jove, stooped from his aerie tour,

Two birds of gayest plume before him drove;

Down from a hill the beast that reigns in woods,

First hunter then, pursued a gentle brace,

Goodliest of all the forest, hart and hind;

Direct to the eastern gate was bent their flight.

Adam observed, and, with his eye the chase

Pursuing, not unmoved to Eve thus spake:—

“O Eve, some further change awaits us nigh,

Which Heaven by these mute signs in Nature shews,

Forerunners of his purpose, or to warn

Us, haply too secure of our discharge

From penalty because from death released

Some days: how long, and what till then our life,

Who knows, or more than this, that we are dust,

And thither must return, and be no more?

Why else this double object in our sight,

Of flight pursued in the air and o’er the ground

One way the self-same hour? Why in the east

Darkness ere day’s mid-course, and morning-light

More orient in yon western cloud, that draws

O’er the blue firmament a radiant white,

And slow descends, with something Heavenly fraught?”

He erred not; for, by this, the Heavenly bands

Down from a sky of jasper lighted now

In Paradise, and on a hill made halt—

A glorious Apparition, had not doubt

And carnal fear that day dimmed Adam’s eye.

Not that more glorious, when the Angels met

Jacob in Mahanaim, where he saw

The field pavilioned with his guardians bright;

Nor that which on the flaming Mount appeared

In Dothan, covered with a camp of fire,

Against the Syrian king, who, to surprise

One man, assassin-like, had levied war,

War unproclaimed. The princely Hierarch

In their bright stand there left his Powers to seize

Possession of the Garden; he alone,

To find where Adam sheltered, took his way,

Not unperceived of Adam; who to Eve,

While the great Visitant approached, thus spake:—

“Eve, now expect great tidings, which, perhaps,

Of us will soon determine, or impose

New laws to be observed; for I descry,

From yonder blazing cloud that veils the hill,

One of the Heavenly host, and, by his gait,

None of the meanest—some great Potentate

Or of the Thrones above, such majesty

Invests him coming; yet not terrible,

That I should fear, nor sociably mild,

As Raphael, that I should much confide,

But solemn and sublime; whom, not to offend,

With reverence I must meet, and thou retire.”

He ended; and the Archangel soon drew nigh,

Not in his shape celestial, but as man

Clad to meet man. Over his lucid arms

A military vest of purple flowed,

Livelier than Melibœan, or the grain

Of Sarra, worn by kings and heroes old

In time of truce; Iris had dipt the woof.

His starry helm unbuckled shewed him prime

In manhood where youth ended; by his side,

As in glistering zodiac, hung the sword,

Satan’s dire dread, and in his hand the spear.

Adam bowed low; he, kingly, from his state

Inclined not, but his coming thus declared:—

“Adam, Heaven’s high behest no preface needs.

Sufficient that thy prayers are heard, and Death,

Then due by sentence when thou didst transgress,

Defeated of his seizure many days,

Given thee of grace, wherein thou may’st repent,

And one bad act with many deeds well done

May’st cover. Well may then thy Lord, appeased,

Redeem thee quite from Death’s rapacious claim;

But longer in this Paradise to dwell

Permits not. To remove thee I am come,

And send thee from the Garden forth, to till

The ground whence thou wast taken, fitter soil.”

He added not; for Adam, at the news

Heart-strook, with chilling gripe of sorrow stood,

That all his senses bound; Eve, who unseen

Yet all had heard, with audible lament

Discovered soon the place of her retire:—

“O unexpected stroke, worse than of Death!

Must I thus leave thee, Paradise? thus leave

Thee, native soil? these happy walks and shades,

Fit haunt of Gods, where I had hope to spend,

Quiet, though sad, the respite of that day

That must be mortal to us both? O flowers,

That never will in other climate grow,

My early visitation, and my last

At even, which I bred up with tender hand

From the first opening bud, and gave ye names,

Who now shall rear ye to the Sun, or rank

Your tribes, and water from the ambrosial fount?

Thee, lastly, nuptial bower, by me adorned

With what to sight or smell was sweet, from thee

How shall I part, and whither wander down

Into a lower world, to this obscure

And wild? How shall we breathe in other air

Less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits?”

Whom thus the Angel interrupted mild:

“Lament not, Eve, but patiently resign

What justly thou hast lost; nor set thy heart,

Thus over-fond, on that which is not thine.

Thy going is not lonely; with thee goes

Thy husband; him to follow thou art bound;

Where he abides, think there thy native soil.”

Adam, by this from the cold sudden damp

Recovering, and his scattered spirits returned,

To Michael thus his humble words addressed:—

“Celestial, whether among the Thrones, or named

Of them the highest—for such of shape may seem

Prince above princes—gently hast thou told

Thy message, which might else in telling wound,

And in performing end us. What besides

Of sorrow, and dejection, and despair,

Our frailty can sustain, thy tidings bring—

Departure from this happy place, our sweet

Recess, and only consolation left

Familiar to our eyes; all places else

Inhospitable appear, and desolate,

Nor knowing us, nor known. And, if by prayer

Incessant I could hope to change the will

Of Him who all things can, I would not cease

To weary him with my assiduous cries;

But prayer against his absolute decree

No more avails than breath against the wind,

Blown stifling back on him that breathes it forth:

Therefore to his great bidding I submit.

This most afflicts me—that, departing hence,

As from his face I shall be hid, deprived

His blessed countenance. Here I could frequent,

With worship, place by place where he voutsafed

Presence Divine, and to my sons relate,

‘On this mount He appeared; under this tree

Stood visible; among these pines his voice

I heard; here with him at this fountain talked.’

So many grateful altars I would rear

Of grassy turf, and pile up every stone

Of lustre from the brook, in memory

Or monument to ages, and thereon

Offer sweet-smelling gums, and fruits, and flowers.

In yonder nether world where shall I seek

His bright appearances, or footstep trace?

For, though I fled him angry, yet, recalled

To life prolonged and promised race, I now

Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts

Of glory, and far off his steps adore.”

To whom thus Michael, with regard benign:—

“Adam, thou know’st Heaven his, and all the Earth,

Not this rock only; his omnipresence fills

Land, sea, and air, and every kind that lives,

Fomented by his virtual power and warmed.

All the Earth he gave thee to possess and rule,

No despicable gift; surmise not, then,

His presence to these narrow bounds confined

Of Paradise or Eden. This had been

Perhaps thy capital seat, from whence had spread

All generations, and had hither come,

From all the ends of the Earth, to celebrate

And reverence thee their great progenitor.

But this pre-eminence thou hast lost, brought down

To dwell on even ground now with thy sons:

Yet doubt not but in valley and in plain

God is, as here, and will be found alike

Present, and of his presence many a sign

Still following thee, still compassing thee round

With goodness and paternal love, his face

Express, and of his steps the track divine.

Which that thou may’st believe, and be confirmed

Ere thou from hence depart, know I am sent

To shew thee what shall come in future days

To thee and to thy offspring. Good with bad

Expect to hear, supernal grace contending

With sinfulness of men—thereby to learn

True patience, and to temper joy with fear

And pious sorrow, equally inured

By moderation either state to bear,

Prosperous or adverse: so shalt thou lead

Safest thy life, and best prepared endure

Thy mortal passage when it comes. Ascend

This hill; let Eve (for I have drenched her eyes)

Here sleep below while thou to foresight wak’st,

As once thou slept’st while she to life was formed.”

To whom thus Adam gratefully replied:—

“Ascend, I follow thee, safe Guide, the path

Thou lead’st me, and to the hand of Heaven submit,

However chastening—to the evil turn

My obvious breast, arming to overcome

By suffering, and earn rest from labour won,

If so I may attain.” So both ascend

In the Visions of God. It was a hill,

Of Paradise the highest, from whose top

The hemisphere of Earth is clearest ken

Stretched out to the amplest reach of prospect lay.

Not higher that hill, nor wider looking ground,

Whereon for different cause the Tempter set

Our second Adam, in the wilderness,

To shew him all Earth’s kingdoms and their glory.

His eye might there command wherever stood

City of old or modern fame, the seat

Of mightiest empire, from the destined walls

Of Cambalu, seat of Cathaian Can,

And Samarchand by Oxus, Temir’s throne,

To Pacquin, of Sinæan kings, and thence

To Agra and Lahor of Great Mogul,

Down to the golden Chersonese, or where

The Persian in Ecbatan sat, or since

In Hispahan, or where the Russian Ksar

In Mosco, or the Sultan in Bizance,

Turchestan-born; nor could his eye not ken

The empire of Negus to his utmost port

Ercoco, and the less maritime kings,

Mombaza, and Quiloa, and Melind,

And Sofala (thought Ophir), to the realm

Of Congo, and Angola fardest south,

Or thence from Niger flood to Atlas mount,

The kingdoms of Almansor, Fez and Sus,

Marocco, and Algiers, and Tremisen;

On Europe thence, and where Rome was to sway,

The world: in spirit perhaps he also saw

Rich Mexico, the seat of Montezume,

And Cusco in Peru, the richer seat

Of Atabalipa, and yet unspoiled

Guiana, whose great city Geryon’s sons

Call El Dorado. But to nobler sights

Michael from Adam’s eyes the film removed

Which that false fruit that promised clearer sight

Had bred; then purged with euphrasy and rue

The visual nerve, for he had much to see,

And from the well of life three drops instilled.

So deep the power of these ingredients pierced,

Even to the inmost seat of mental sight,

That Adam, now enforced to close his eyes,

Sunk down, and all his spirits became intranced.

But him the gentle Angel by the hand

Soon raised, and his attention thus recalled:—

“Adam, now ope thine eyes, and first behold

The effects which thy original crime hath wrought

In some to spring from thee, who never touched

The excepted Tree, nor with the Snake conspired,

Nor sinned thy sin, yet from that sin derive

Corruption to bring forth more violent deeds.”

His eyes he opened, and beheld a field,

Part arable and tilth, whereon were sheaves

New-reaped, the other part sheep-walks and folds:

I’ the midst an altar as the landmark stood,

Rustic, of grassy sord. Thither anon

A sweaty reaper from his tillage brought

First-fruits, the green ear and the yellow sheaf,

Unculled, as came to hand. A shepherd next,

More meek, came with the firstlings of his flock,

Choicest and best; then, sacrificing, laid

The inwards and their fat, with incense strewed,

On the cleft wood, and all due rites performed.

His offering soon propitious fire from heaven

Consumed, with nimble glance and grateful steam;

The other’s not, for his was not sincere:

Whereat he inly raged, and, as they talked,

Smote him into the midriff with a stone

That beat out life; he fell, and, deadly pale,

Groaned out his soul, with gushing blood effused.

Much at that sight was Adam in his heart

Dismayed, and thus in haste to the Angel cried:—

“O Teacher, some great mischief hath befallen

To that meek man, who well had sacrificed:

Is piety thus and pure devotion paid?

To whom Michael thus, he also moved, replied:—

“These two are brethren, Adam, and to come

Out of thy loins. The unjust the just hath slain,

For envy that his brother’s offering found

From Heaven acceptance; but the bloody fact

Will be avenged, and the other’s faith approved

Lose no reward, though here thou see him die,

Rowling in dust and gore.” To which our Sire:—

“Alas, both for the deed and for the cause!

But have I now seen Death? Is this the way

I must return to native dust? O sight

Of terror, foul and ugly to behold!

Horrid to think, how horrible to feel!

To whom thus Michael:—“Death thou hast seen

In his first shape on Man; but many shapes

Of Death, and many are the ways that lead

To his grim cave—all dismal, yet to sense

More terrible at the entrance than within.

Some, as thou saw’st, by violent stroke shall die,

By fire, flood, famine; by intemperance more

In meats and drinks, which on the Earth shall bring

Diseases dire, of which a monstrous crew

Before thee shall appear, that thou may’st know

What misery the inabstinence of Eve

Shall bring on me.” Immediately a place

Before his eyes appeared, sad, noisome, dark;

A lazar-house it seemed, wherein were laid

Numbers of all diseased—all maladies

Of ghastly spasm, of racking torture, qualms

Of heart-sick agony, all feverous kinds,

Convulsions, epilepsies, fierce catarrhs,

Intestine stone and ulcer, colic pangs,

Dæmoniac phrenzy, moping melancholy,

And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy,

Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence,

Dropsies and asthmas, and joint-racking rheums.

Dire was the tossing, deep the groans; Despair

Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch;

And over them triumphant Death his dart

Shook, but delayed to strike, though oft invoked

With vows, as their chief good and final hope.

Sight so deform what heart of rock could long

Dry-eyed behold? Adam could not, but wept,

Though not of woman born: compassion quelled

His best of man, and gave him up to tears

A space, till firmer thoughts restrained excess,

And, scarce recovering words, his plaint renewed:—

“O miserable Mankind, to what fall

Degraded, to what wretched state reserved!

Better end here unborn. Why is life given

To be thus wrested from us? rather why

Obtruded on us thus? who, if we knew

What we receive would either not accept

Life offered, or soon beg to lay it down,

Glad to be so dismissed in peace. Can thus

The image of God in Man, created once

So goodly and erect, though faulty since,

To such unsightly sufferings be debased

Under inhuman pains? Why should not Man,

Retaining still divine similitude

In part, from such deformities be free,

And for his Maker’s image’ sake exempt?”

“Their Maker’s image,” answered Michael, “then

Forsook them, when themselves they vilified

To serve ungoverned Appetite, and took

His image whom they served—a brutish vice,

Inductive mainly to the sin of Eve.

Therefore so abject is their punishment,

Disfiguring not God’s likeness, but their own;

Or, if his likeness, by themselves defaced

While they pervert pure Nature’s healthful rules

To loathsome sickness—worthily, since they

God’s image did not reverence in themselves.”

“I yield it just,” said Adam, “and submit.

But is there yet no other way, besides

These painful passages, how we may come

To death, and mix with our connatural dust?”

“There is,” said Michael, “if thou well observe

The rule of Not too much, by temperance taught

In what thou eat’st and drink’st, seeking from thence

Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight,

Till many years over thy head return.

So may’st thou live, till, like ripe fruit, thou drop

Into thy mother’s lap, or be with ease

Gathered, not harshly plucked, for death mature.

This is old age; but then thou must outlive

Thy youth, thy strength, thy beauty, which will change

To withered, weak, and grey; thy senses then,

Obtuse, all taste of pleasure must forgo

To what thou hast; and, for the air of youth,

Hopeful and cheerful, in thy blood will reign

A melancholy damp of cold and dry,

To weigh thy spirits down, and last consume

The balm of life.” To whom our Ancestor:—

“Henceforth I fly not death, nor would prolong

Life much—bent rather how I may be quit,

Fairest and easiest, of this cumbrous charge,

Which I must keep till my appointed day

Of rendering up, and patiently attend

My dissolution.” Michael replied:—

“Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou liv’st

Live well, how long or short permit to Heaven.

And now prepare thee for another sight.”

He looked, and saw a spacious plain, whereon

Were tents of various hue: by some were herds

Of cattle grazing: others whence the sound

Of instruments that made melodious chime

Was heard, of harp and organ, and who moved

Their stops and chords was seen: his volant touch

Instinct through all proportions low and high

Fled and pursued transverse the resonant fugue.

In other part stood one who, at the forge

Labouring, two massy clods of iron and brass

Had melted (whether found where casual fire

Had wasted woods, on mountain or in vale,

Down to the veins of earth, thence gliding hot

To some cave’s mouth, or whether washed by stream

From underground); the liquid ore he drained

Into fit moulds prepared; from which he formed

First his own tools, then what might else be wrought

Fusil or graven in metal. After these,

But on the hither side, a different sort

From the high neighbouring hills, which was their seat,

Down to the plain descended: by their guise

Just men they seemed, and all their study bent

To worship God aright, and know his works

Not hid; nor those things last which might preserve

Freedom and peace to men. They on the plain

Long had not walked when from the tents behold

A bevy of fair women, richly gay

In gems and wanton dress! to the harp they sung

Soft amorous ditties, and in dance came on.

The men, though grave, eyed them, and let their eyes

Rove without rein, till, in the amorous net

Fast caught, they liked, and each his liking chose.

And now of love they treat, till the evening-star,

Love’s harbinger, appeared; then, all in heat,

They light the nuptial torch, and bid invoke

Hymen, then first to marriage rites invoked:

With feast and music all the tents resound.

Such happy interview, and fair event

Of love and youth not lost, songs, garlands, flowers,

And charming symphonies, attached the heart

Of Adam, soon inclined to admit delight,

The bent of Nature; which he thus expressed:

“True opener of mine eyes, prime Angel blest,

Much better seems this vision, and more hope

Of peaceful days portends, than those two past:

Those were of hate and death, or pain much worse;

Here Nature seems fulfilled in all her ends.”

To whom thus Michael:—“Judge not what is best

By pleasure, though to Nature seeming meet,

Created, as thou art, to nobler end,

Holy and pure, conformity divine.

Those tents thou saw’st so pleasant were the tents

Of wickedness, wherein shall dwell his race

Who slew his brother: studious they appear

Of arts that polish life, inventors rare;

Unmindful of their Maker, though his Spirit

Taught them; but they his gifts acknowledged none.

Yet they a beauteous offspring shall beget;

For that fair female troop thou saw’st, that seemed

Of goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay,

Yet empty of all good wherein consists

Woman’s domestic honour and chief praise;

Bred only and completed to the taste

Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance,

To dress, and troll the tongue, and roll the eye:—

To these that sober race of men, whose lives

Religious titled them the Sons of God,

Shall yield up all their virtue, all their fame,

Ignobly, to the trains and to the smiles

Of these fair atheists, and now swim in joy

(Erelong to swim at large) and laugh; for which

The world erelong a world of tears must weep.”

To whom thus Adam, of short joy bereft:—

“O pity and shame, that they who to live well

Entered so fair should turn aside to tread

Paths indirect, or in the midway faint!

But still I see the tenor of Man’s woe

Holds on the same, from Woman to begin.”

“From Man’s effeminate slackness it begins,”

Said the Angel, “who should better hold his place

By wisdom, and superior gifts received.

But now prepare thee for another scene.”

He looked, and saw wide territory spread

Before him—towns, and rural works between,

Cities of men with lofty gates and towers,

Concourse in arms, fierce faces threatening war,

Giants of mighty bone and bold emprise.

Part wield their arms, part curb the foaming steed,

Single or in array of battle ranged

Both horse and foot, nor idly mustering stood.

One way a band select from forage drives

A herd of beeves, fair oxen and fair kine,

From a fat meadow-ground, or fleecy flock,

Ewes and their bleating lambs, over the plain,

Their booty; scarce with life the shepherds fly,

But call in aid, which makes a bloody fray:

With cruel tournament the squadrons join;

Where cattle pastured late, now scattered lies

With carcasses and arms the ensanguined field

Deserted. Others to a city strong

Lay siege, encamped, by battery, scale, and mine,

Assaulting; others from the wall defend

With dart and javelin, stones and sulphurous fire;

On each hand slaughter and gigantic deeds.

In other parts the sceptred haralds call

To council in the city-gates: anon

Grey-headed men and grave, with warriors mixed,

Assemble, and harangues are heard; but soon

In factious opposition, till at last

Of middle age one rising, eminent

In wise deport, spake much of right and wrong,

Of justice, of religion, truth, and peace,

And judgment from above: him old and young

Exploded, and had seized with violent hands,

Had not a cloud descending snatched him thence,

Unseen amid the throng. So violence

Proceeded, and oppression, and sword-law,

Through all the plain, and refuge none was found.

Adam was all in tears; and to his guide

Lamenting turned full sad:—“Oh, what are these?

Death’s ministers, not men! who thus deal death

Inhumanly to men, and multiply

Ten thousandfold the sin of him who slew

His brother; for of whom such massacre

Make they but of their brethren, men of men?

But who was that just man, whom had not Heaven

Rescued, had in his righteousness been lost?”

To whom thus Michael:—“These are the product’

Of those ill-mated marriages thou saw’st,

Where good with bad were matched; who of themselves

Abhor to join, and, by imprudence mixed,

Produce prodigious births of body or mind.

Such were these Giants, men of high renown;

For in those days might only shall be admired,

And valour and heroic virtue called.

To overcome in battle, and subdue

Nations, and bring home spoils with infinite

Manslaughter, shall be held the highest pitch

Of human glory, and, for glory done,

Of triumph to be styled great conquerors,

Patrons of mankind, gods, and sons of gods—

Destroyers rightlier called, and Plagues of men.

Thus fame shall be achieved, renown on earth,

And what most merits fame in silence hid.

But he, the seventh from thee, whom thou beheld’st

The only righteous in a world perverse,

And therefore hated, therefore so beset

With foes, for daring single to be just,

And utter odious truth, that God would come

To judge them with his Saints—him the Most High,

Rapt in a balmy cloud, with wingèd steeds,

Did, as thou saw’st, receive, to walk with God

High in salvation and the climes of bliss,

Exempt from death, to show thee what reward

Awaits the good, the rest what punishment;

Which now direct thine eyes and soon behold.”

He looked, and saw the face of things quite changed.

The brazen throat of war had ceased to roar;

All now was turned to jollity and game,

To luxury and riot, feast and dance,

Marrying or prostituting, as befell,

Rape or adultery, where passing fair

Allured them; thence form cups to civil broils.

At length a reverend Sire among them came,

And of their doings great dislike declared,

And testified against their ways. He oft

Frequented their assemblies, whereso met,

Triumphs or festivals, and to them preached

Conversion and repentance, as to souls

In prison, under judgments imminent;

But all in vain. Which when he saw, he ceased

Contending, and removed his tents far off;

Then, from the mountain hewing timber tall,

Began to build a Vessel of huge bulk,

Measured by cubit, length, and breadth, and highth,

Smeared round with pitch, and in the side a door

Contrived, and of provisions laid in large

For man and beast: when lo! a wonder strange!

Of every beast, and bird, and insect small

Came sevens and pairs, and entered in, as taught

Their order; last, the Sire and his three sons,

With their four wives; and God made fast the door.

Meanwhile the South-wind rose, and, with black wings

Wide-hovering, all the clouds together drove

From under heaven; the hills to their supply

Vapour, and exhalation dusk and moist,

Sent up amain; and now the thickened sky

Like a dark ceiling stood: down rushed the rain

Impetuous, and continued till the earth

No more was seen. The floating Vessel swum

Uplifted, and secure with beaked prow

Rode tilting o’er the waves; all dwellings else

Flood overwhelmed, and them with all their pomp

Deep under water rowled; sea covered sea,

Sea without shore: and in their palaces,

Where luxury late reigned, sea-monsters whelped

And stabled: of mankind, so numerous late,

All left in one small bottom swum imbarked.

How didst thou grieve then, Adam, to behold

The end of all thy offspring, end so sad,

Depopulation! Thee another flood,

Of tears and sorrow a flood thee also drowned,

And sunk thee as thy sons; till, gently reared

By the Angel, on thy feet thou stood’st at last,

Though comfortless, as when a father mourns

His children, all in view destroyed at once,

And scarce to the Angel utter’dst thus thy plaint:—

“O Visions ill foreseen! Better had I

Lived ignorant of future—so had borne

My part of evil only, each day’s lot

Enough to bear. Those now that were dispensed

The burden of many ages on me light

At once, by my foreknowledge gaining birth

Abortive, to torment me, ere their being,

With thought that they must be. Let no man seek

Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall

Him or his children—evil, he may be sure,

Which neither his foreknowing can prevent,

And he the future evil shall no less

In apprehension than in substance feel

Grievous to bear. But that care now is past;

Man is not whom to warn; those few escaped

Famine and anguish will at last consume,

Wandering that watery desert. I had hope,

When violence was ceased and war on Earth,

All would have then gone well, peace would have crowned

With length of happy days the race of Man;

But I was far deceived, for now I see

Peace to corrupt no less than war to waste.

How comes it thus? Unfold, Celestial Guide,

And whether here the race of Man will end.”

To whom thus Michael:—“Those whom last thou saw’st

In triumph and luxurious wealth are they

First seen in acts of powers eminent

And great exploits, but of true virtue void;

Who, having split much blood, and done much waste,

Subduing nations, and achieved thereby

Fame in the world, high titles, and rich prey,

Shall change their course to pleasure, ease, and sloth,

Surfeit, and lust, till wantonness and pride

Raise out of friendship hostile deeds in peace.

The conquered, also, and enslaved by war,

Shall, with their freedom lost, all virtue lose,

And fear of God—from whom their piety feigned

In sharp contest of battle found no aid

Against invaders; therefore, cooled in zeal,

Thenceforth shall practise how to live secure,

Worldly, or dissolute, on what their lords

Shall leave them to enjoy; for the Earth shall bear

More than enough, that temperance may be tried.

So all shall turn degenerate, all depraved,

Justice and temperance, truth and faith, forgot;

One man except, the only son of light

In a dark age, against example good,

Against allurement, custom, and a world

Offended. Fearless of reproach and scorn,

Or violence, he of their wicked ways

Shall them admonish, and before them set

The paths of righteousness, how much more safe

And full of peace, denouncing wrauth to come

On their impenitence, and shall return

Of them derided, but of God observed

The one just man alive: by his command

Shall build a wondrous Ark, as thou beheld’st,

To save himself and household from amidst

A world devote to universal wrack.

No sooner he, with them of man and beast

Select for life, shall in the ark be lodged

And sheltered round, but all the cataracts

Of Heaven set open on the Earth shall pour

Rain day and night; all fountains of the deep,

Broke up, shall heaven the ocean to usurp

Beyond all bounds, till inundation rise

Above the highest hills. Then shall this Mount

Of Paradise by might of waves be moved

Out of his place, pushed by the horned flood,

With all his verdure spoiled, and trees adrift,

Down the great River to the opening Gulf,

And there take root, and island salt and bare,

The haunt of seals, and orcs, and sea-mews’ clang—

To teach thee that God at’tributes to place

No sanctity, if none be thither brought

By men who there frequent or therein dwell.

And now what further shall ensue behold.”

He looked, and saw the Ark hull on the flood,

Which now abated; for the clouds were fled.

Driven by a keen North-wind, that, blowing dry,

Wrinkled the face of Deluge, as decayed;

And the clear sun on his wide watery glass

Gazed hot, and of the fresh wave largely drew,

As after thirst; which made their flowing shrink

From standing lake to tripping ebb, that stole

With soft foot towards the deep, who now had stopt

His sluices, as the heaven his windows shut.

The Ark no more now floats, but seems on ground,

Fast on the top of some high mountain fixed.

And now the tops of hills as rocks appear;

With clamour thence the rapid currents drive

Towards the retreating sea their furious tide.

Forthwith from out the ark a Raven flies.

And, after him, the surer messenger,

A Dove, sent forth once and again to spy

Green tree or ground whereon his foot may light;

The second time returning, in his bill

An olive-leaf he brings, pacific sign.

Anon dry ground appears, and from his ark

The ancient sire descends, with all this train;

Then, with uplifted hands and eyes devout,

Grateful to Heaven, over his head beholds

A dewy cloud, and in the cloud a Bow

Conspicuous with three listed colours gay,

Betokening peace from God, and covenant new.

Whereat the heart of Adam, erst so sad,

Greatly rejoiced; and thus his joy broke forth:—

“O thou, who future things cants represent

As present, Heavenly Instructor, I revive

At this last sight, assured that Man shall live,

With all the creatures, and their seed preserve.

Far less I now lament for one whole world

Of wicked sons destroyed that I rejoice

For one man found so perfet and so just

That God voutsafes to raise another world

From him, and all his anger to forget.

But say what mean those coloured streaks in Heaven:

Distended as the brow of God appeased?

Or serve they as a flowery verge to bind

The fluid skirts of that same watery cloud,

Lest it again dissolve and shower the Earth?”

To whom the Archangel:—“Dextrously thou aim’st.

So willingly doth God remit his ire:

Though late repenting him of Man depraved,

Grieved at his heart, when, looking down, he saw

The whole Earth filled with violence, and all flesh

Corrupting each their way; yet, those removed,

Such grace shall one just man find in his sight

That he relents, not to blot out mankind,

And makes a covenant never to destroy

The Earth again by flood, nor let the sea

Surpass his bounds, nor rain to drown the world

With man therein or beast: but, when he brings

Over the Earth a cloud, with therein set

His triple-coloured bow, whereon to look

And call to mind his Covenant. Day and night,

Seed-time and harvest, heat and hoary frost,

Shall hold their course, till fire purge all things new

Both Heaven and Earth, wherein the just shall dwell.”