Reflections on Paradise Lost, part 4

Beginning Book 9 is Milton’s long lament regarding his fears that he will not do justice to his epic. He fears that he will die before he has finished. This epic meant everything to Milton–he knew it had the potential to be *great*–and, despite his being a true boor (and occasionally a bore) as a human, I couldn’t help feeling sad for the man. Reading the opening section, I can feel his sentiment pressing against the paper. He wanted to make a difference, and he had the ego to believe that he could. (Most writers suffer–at least a little–from this sort of egotism–else, why would we write?)

After invoking the muse and pleading for time enough to finish, Milton picks back up with Satan’s storyline. Satan circles Eden for seven days, sortying for a weakness in the defensive perimeter set up by Uriel and the Cherubim (who are fiery soldiers of God–not chubby baby-looking cherubs of contemporary Valentine’s Day schmaltz; these guys are scary). On the eighth day, Satan finds a way in.

Uriel, looking less scary:

[Self-referential aside: In this book, for the first time ever, I prayed for a footnote. I flatter myself, thinking a have a decent vocabulary. Milton’s poetry, though dense, is generally composed of words whose meanings I comprehend (sometimes used in a somewhat arbitrary grammatical fashion, but still). Then I came to “maugre”:

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, fearlessness returned.

–lines 53-57

I read the word “maugre”, and I had to look at it twice. That word was so out of the norm, I don’t even think my brain could process the letters in that order. It turns out that maugre = despite. Ah. Satan feels so angry about all the prior occurrences, he flies throughout the night, plotting ways to destroy Earth and man in spite of the idea that God might really smite him this time. (That passage makes much more sense now, right?)]


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