Let’s Bring in Some Pillars and Resurrect Cecile B DeMille

I’m teaching Paradise Lost for the very last time, a poem I absolutely love.

I love its baroque poetry. Here’s Satan regaining consciousness after being flung across the cosmos into the fiery pit of perdition:

At once, as far as Angel’s ken, he views

The dismal situation, waste and wild,

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,

As one great furnace flames.

And I love Satan, tragic antihero extraordinaire.  Here he is, going all existential, vaunting heroically to his nearest mate Beelzebub:

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less than he

Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

But later, outside the gates of Eden in a soliloquy to the sun, he becomes perhaps the greatest of all tragic heroes, giving voice to his anagnorisis:

Me miserable! which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath and infinite despair?

Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;

And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep

Still threatening to devour me opens wide,

To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven

Here he sounds like John Wayne in a western:

Whence and what art thou, execrable Shape,

That dar’st though grim and terrible, advance

Thy miscreated front athwart my way

To yonder gates? Through them I mean yo pass,

That be assured, without leave of ask of thee.

The poem encompasses all of time (the war in heaven precedes the creation of earth) and all of space (hell is on a distant planet on the opposite side of heaven).  Not only that, but Milton also evokes the Holy Spirit as a muse so he “may assert Eternal Providence,/And justify the ways of God to men.”

I teach the poem as adventure, as a sort of Marvel/DC Comics movie wannabe with Satan as a super-super villain who out-Hulks the Hulk, o’er leaps Spiderman, makes Superman seem like a patsy in comparison.

For decades, I’ve put on this shtick where I pitch an investment opportunity to the students.  I argue that PL would make one kickass blockbuster recordbreaking animated epic motionpicture experience.[1]  For a mere 100K investment per student, I could get the project off the ground.

Truthfully, PL really would be, if you could get around the fullfrontal nudity of Books I & IV, profoundly entertaining.  Certainly, the poem’s noble aspiration to justify Christianity should offset the horror that the darkened pigmentation of aureoles seems to provoke in red-blooded Americans. After all, we could run this disclaimer from Milton himself:

Nor those mysterious parts were then concealed:

Then was not guilty shame. Dishonest shame

Of Nature’s works, honour dishonourable,

Sin-bred, how have ye troubled all mankind

With shews instead, mere shews of seeming pure

And banished from man’s life his happiest life,

Simplicity and spotless innocence!

But dig this: as I was scouring the internet looking for images the spiff up my Keynote presentation, I ran across this fake trailer for Paradise Lost, the movie. Dig it:

 

I mean, y’all, just sayin’.


[1]Look at me going all Joycean with these fused compound adjectives.

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