Monday, November 15, 2010

Dawn in P.L. 5

If we needed assurance that Paradise Lost breaks neatly into thirds, consider the opening of Book 9:

NO more of talk where God or Angel Guest
With Man, as with his Friend, familiar us'd
To sit indulgent, and with him partake
Rural repast, permitting him the while
Venial discourse unblam'd:

The poem that opens with Satan landing in hell with a thud turns, in book 5, to a human state suffused with images of dawn, of flowers and fruits, of the primal world of humanity working the world and conversing with angels. There's a striking difference between Adam and Eve's work in the garden and the harsher world of Virgil's Georgics, where the varied labors of cultivation require unremitting effort as well as study. If labor vincit omnia in Virgilit does so with the qualifier improbus, whose relevant meanings include restless, indomitable, persistent, as well as, connotatively, fierce and violent. One result of the Fall is that we fell into Virgil's world of labor improbus.

The opening of Book 5, the mid-section of the epic, puts enough stress on dawn that the reader would be well advised to consider the manifold chain of images that invariably comes with it: figures of a gradual (rosie steps) enlightening that entails an ever more detailed differentiation of the visible realm; initiation of the temporal realm of hours, of the approach of the sun and the train of things that derive from it, the clearing of mists, the creation of rain leading to the biosphere, where all things consume and are consumed. And Dawn is naturally accompanied by the fairest of stars (166).

Adam's paean to the sun (of this great World both Eye and Soule) greets the day, and Dawn is the "sure/pledge of day" (167-68). Before the hours run, at the very beginning, is Prime - it's worth noting how that word returns four times in Book 5. The first occurrence is when we hear Adam, calling to the still sleeping Eve, we lose the prime (21).

Lucifer precedes dawn, but dawn is followed by the advent of Raphael, who, to Adam
seems another Morn
Ris'n on mid-noon
The angel will speak to Adam and Eve of high things - the appointment of the Son as head, the revulsion of Satan, and the prophetic voice of Abdiel. At this point we are beyond the natural light of the sun, but it would be worthwhile to consider echoes of the first half of Book 5 as they occur in the second half -- Satan's speech to Beelzebub, or words such as "impair'd" and "entertain." Milton seems to not use a word without its interestingly resonating with other instances of the "same" word.

Dawn and primacy resonate throughout: Look, for example, how at the end of Book 5, Satan can't swallow the idea that he was made, authored. Parodying the voice out of the whirlwind of Job (parody is the ultimate in secondary tropism), Satan can't accept that he is not primordial:

That we were formd then saist thou? and the work
Of secondarie hands, by task transferd
From Father to his Son? strange point and new! [ 855 ]
Doctrin which we would know whence learnt: who saw
When this creation was? rememberst thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?
We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-rais'd [ 860 ]
By our own quick'ning power, when fatal course
Had circl'd his full Orbe, the birth mature
Of this our native Heav'n, Ethereal Sons.

The speed with which the angels intuit, decide and act is in marked contrast to the gradual taking in and development of knowledge, thought and feeling in Adam and Eve, or for that matter, in the reader of Paradise Lost. For Satan there is no logical argument or intuitable evidence that anything, including the Sun/Son, preexisted him. It is never going to dawn on him that he derives from something more primal than himself. The cogent logic of Book Five's images helps us see how and why no creature other than Lucifer could be the morning star.

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