December 4, 1997
sentence et solas: Joy and Sensuality in
Paradise Lost Before and After the Fall
In Paradise Lost, Milton treats sensuality as an inherent part of human nature, celebrating the "wedded Love" of Adam and Eve (IV, 750). There are two scenes in Paradise Lost that describe Adam and Eve making love and falling asleep. The first passage describes the prelapserian bliss of Adam and Eve and their "Nuptial Bed" (IV, 710). The second describes the lustful hunger of the pair immediately following the eating of the "fallacious Fruit" (IX, 1046). These seemingly similar passages contain subtle differences that contribute to a difference in tone which best illustrates the shift in perception due to the Fall in all of Paradise Lost.
The first passage is characterized by a tone of holiness, solemnity, and spirituality. Before retiring to their bower Adam and Eve give praise and thanks to God, creator of all. When Eve decorates their bed, "heavenly Choirs" sing the hymenæan, celebrating the sanctity of marriage (IV, 711). The poet emphatically affirms the sanctity of "connubial Love" (IV, 743) by saying "God declares [it] / Pure" (IV, 746-7), and by calling it "mysterious Law" (IV, 750). His word choices, "undefil'd and chaste" (IV, 761), "true" (IV, 750), and "blest" (IV, 774) lend further support to the claim. It is also of note that Milton chose to use the word "pure" four times in a space of less than twenty lines (IV, 737, 745, 747, 755). This is love founded "in Reason, Loyal, Just, and Pure" (IV, 755). It stands in contrast to "adulterous lust" (IV, 753) and "loveless, joyless, unindear'd, / Casual fruition" (IV, 766-7).
The contrasts to the second passage are staggering. Adam and Eve do not pray to God before retiring. They are misdirecting devotion to other things. The Adam and Eve who before displayed humility, now display arrogance and egotism in what they perceive their newfound superiority. Adam wishes there were ten more forbidden trees, should they all bear fruit as pleasurable; how blithely he admits he would transgress against God tenfold should the opportunity for pleasure present itself! One must also not disregard the fact that Eve paid worshipful homage to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil before approaching Adam, bowing to it as to a deity. Adam, conversely, is later admonished by God: "Was shee thy God, that her thou didst obey" (X, 145). Lovemaking in the first instance is sanctioned by God, even endorsed by him: "God declares/ [it] pure…./ Our Maker bids encrease" (IV, 746-8). "Saints and Patriarchs" (IV, 762) are used as evidence, as is Love, personified as an angel with purple wings. There is no such sanction in the second passage; there is indeed no divinity present. There are only the "fallacious Fruit" (IX, 1046) and the ravenous pair. The tone is one of transgression, magnified by the greedy speech of Adam about the fruit, and the two references to the "forbidden" in consecutive lines (IX, 1025-6).
The lovemaking in the second passage is not a consummation of the pair's "mutual love" (IV, 728), but "of thir mutual guilt the Seal" (IX, 1043). The "mutual guilt" is, of course, the transgression of eating from the forbidden Tree. The second sin that "seals" the first (that is, reaffirms it; solidifies it) is the sin of lust, one of the seven cardinal sins. One must realize that Milton is not damning sensuality in its physical expression of mutual, spiritual love. What is opposed here is the carnality of desire; sex that is an expression of lust, not of love. The love in the first passage is the familial love of "Father, Son, and Brother" (IV, 757). It is caritas, a holy love inherently "godly," as the love of Father and Son (God and Jesus) suggests. The second passage illustrates concupiscence, the "adulterous lust…driven from men/ Among the bestial herds to range" (IV, 753-4). "[M]utual love" (IV, 728) has turned into mutual lust:
Carnal desire inflaming; hee on Eve|
Began to cast lascivious Eyes; she him
As wantonly repaid; in Lust they burn.
The terms emphasizing purity are here exchanged for ones evoking the idea of sin, such as "lascivious" (IX, 1014) and "wantonly" (IX, 1015). These are underscored by imagery of fire and burning, at once evoking images both of lust, and consequently of hell: "inflaming" (IX, 1013), "burn" (IX, 1015), "inflame" (IX, 1031), "Fire" (IX, 1036).
This "Carnal desire" (IX, 1013) is also described by Milton in terms of hunger. The passage is not only preceded by the eating of the fruit, but images of consuming and eating pervade the passage in terms like "taste" (IX, 1017), "savor" (IX, 1019), "Palate" (IX, 1020), "relish, tasting" (IX, 1024), etc. The two in a sense gorge on each other until they have "thir fill of Love" (IX, 1042). This motif is not evident in the first passage—it is as if the spiritual "delicious place" (the idea of Paradise) of the first passage (IV, 729) has been made physical or carnal in the second: "delicious Fare" (a tangible part of Paradise) (IX, 1028). It must also be noted that where the first passage is situated in a divine Paradise, the second passage mentions "Earth's softest lap" (IX, 1041)—the Fall has already debased and transformed the divine into mortal. It is fascinating how Milton describes the pair as though they were intoxicated by the "fallacious Fruit" (IX, 1046). The Fruit has filled them with "exhilarating vapor bland" (IX, 1047), and "unkindly fumes" (IX, 1050) which "[a]bout thir spirits had play'd" (IX, 1048). One cannot help but feel that Milton's choice, also, of the terms "blissful bower" (IV, 690), and "inmost bower" (IV, 738) in the first passage and the corresponding "imbowr'd" in the second passage (IX, 1038), is significant. It is befitting Milton's sense of irony that the "blissful bower" (IV, 690), the "holiest place" (IV, 759), has turned into "The Bower of Bliss."
The first passage casts lovemaking in a solemn light referring twice to "Rites" (IV, 736, 742), bringing to mind holy rites and services. Lovemaking is preceded by the decorating of the marriage bed by Eve, the singing of the hymenæan, and the prayer to God. These are followed finally by the "Rites/ Mysterious of connubial Love" (IV, 742-3). A second occurrence of the word "mysterious" (IV, 750) supports the lovemaking as almost a divine mystery or sacrament. The second passage is devoid of such solemnities, instead sporting words connotative of games, plays, and frivolities: "dalliance" (IX, 1016), "let us play" (IX, 1027), "toy" (IX, 1034), "disport" (IX, 1042), "amorous play" (IX, 1045), "play'd" (IX, 1048). This kind of "Casual fruition" (IV, 767), admonished against in the first passage, is treated as "common," whereas the love in the first passage is holy love, love that only occurs in Paradise:
Hail, wedded Love, mysterious Law, true source|
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In Paradise of all things common else.
The "commonness" is accentuated when one remembers that in the first bed the pair were showered in Roses, the precious flowers symbolic of love—in the second bed they lie on a "couch" of "Pansies, and Violets, and Asphodel,/ And Hyacinth," common flowers all (IX, 1040-1). Their cheapened love is befittingly consummated on a cheaper bed.
The tone difference is most plain following consummation of the physical act. Following lovemaking in the first passage, Adam and Eve:
[L]ull'd by Nightingales imbracing slept, |
And on thir naked limbs the flow'ry roof
Show'r'd Roses, which the Morn repair'd.
Already blissful, their lovemaking has affirmed and created more joy—lovemaking is really "the Crown of all [their] bliss" (IV, 728). They fall easily into sleep, a sleep they share naked, embracing. This sleep is innocent and restful, a gift from God (IV, 736).
Here lies the greatest difference between the two passages: the joy is absent in the second passage. The lovemaking has been "loveless, joyless, unindear'd" (IV, 766), nor is the sleep that follows restful. Lovemaking before the Fall was equivalent to heaping bliss upon bliss—after the Fall it is only solace, to make one, temporarily, almost forget the guilt and shame of sin. It is but little comfort when followed by "dewy sleep" (IX, 1044) "grosser sleep/… with conscious dreams" (IX 1049-50), from which they rise "[a]s from unrest" (IX, 1052). The sins and the Fruit have opened Adam and Eve's eyes, and darkened their minds: in the harsh light of the dawn of knowledge, how clear and unsparing is the truth they must face (IX, 1053-5). Mystery, the veiled innocence, has been taken away leaving the pair naked to the unrelenting reality of their transgression (IX, 1054-5).
In the first passage the two are united, almost like one mind and one body. Many are the references to "both" (IV, 720, 721), "mutual" (IV, 727, 728), and "unanimous" (IV, 736). Of lovely, tender detail, Milton describes how the pair lay side by side, and slept embracing. This prelapserian pair holds hands (IV, 739) on numerous occasions, signifying unity. It is a significant fact when one considers that the pair let go of each other's hand for the first time right before the fall when Eve decides to go alone. The love shared by the prelapserian Adam and Eve is founded "in Reason, Loyal, Just, and Pure." They are reason and sense united. After the Fall, they are in discord (as events after the second passage prove), that is, sense and reason are unbalanced. The knowledge gained is too potent for the two who do not know how to reconcile it, or mend the unity. That the post-lapserian Adam must seize Eve's hand to lead her to bed is most illuminating. Whereas in the first passage the couple is naturally united, in the second they must consciously decide to attach to each other. It is a grim, infinitely sad picture Milton paints of two people, now separated by a gulf, who desperately attempt to cling together against all odds. Yet perhaps the most important point is that they do attempt to unite again, that they do hold on. It is due to this that the image of Adam and Eve leaving Paradise is so moving and so hopeful:
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,|
Through Eden took their solitary way.
The two passages are undeniably similar—it is not rash to assume that they did not come to existence by accident, but were part of Milton's plan. It is precisely the similarity of the passages that makes the differences so clear and meaningful. Yet it is not the numerous details of the passages, which could only entertain interest for a moment, but the tone created by those selfsame details. It is the subtext, the "in-between-the-lines," that is fascinating. It is in these two passages that Milton, through the treatment of sensuality before and after the Fall, uncovers the heart and consequences of the Fall. He describes the joy once experienced in Paradise: a joy man no longer knows how to find or enjoy, having lost his innocence in search for other, perhaps less important knowledge. Paradise Lost offers sentence in the form of moral teaching, and solas in its hopeful end. Still, it cannot but leave a note of sadness in the knowledge that all earthly pleasure is but meager solace compared to the bliss we have lost. Paradise Lost, itself, though impressive in multiple ways, has maintained and will maintain its fascination for readers exactly for that subtext—the author's voice painting a masterpiece on a canvas of human emotion.
- Donne, John. "The Good-Morrow." The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne.
Charles M. Coffin, ed. New York: The Modern Library, 1952, 8.
- Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Complete Poems and Major Prose.
Merritt Y. Hughes, ed. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1957.
- Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1988.
©1997 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved. |
Published by Luminarium Through Express Written Permission of the Author.
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This page was created by Anniina Jokinen on March 19, 1998. Last updated May 6, 2009.