National Epics
By Kate Milner Rabb

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Apostrophe to Light

This passage forms the beginning of Book III., in which the poet visits the realms of light after having described Hell and its inhabitants.

  Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heaven first-born!
  Or of the Eternal coeternal beam
  May I express thee unblamed? since God is light,
  And never but in unapproachèd light
  Dwelt from eternity–dwelt then in thee,
  Bright effluence of bright essence increate!
  Or hear’st thou rather pure Ethereal stream,
  Whose fountain who shall tell? Before the Sun,
  Before the Heavens, thou wert, and at the voice
  Of God, as with a mantle, didst invest
  The rising World of waters dark and deep,
  Won from the void and formless Infinite!
  Thee I revisit now with bolder wing,
  Escaped the Stygian Pool, though long detained
  In that obscure sojourn, while in my flight,
  Through utter and through middle Darkness borne,
  With other notes than to the Orphean lyre
  I sung of Chaos and eternal Night,
  Taught by the Heavenly Muse to venture down
  The dark descent, and up to re-ascend,
  Though hard and rare. Thee I revisit safe,
  And feel thy sovran vital lamp; but thou
  Revisit’st not these eyes, that roll in vain
  To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
  So thick a drop serene hath quenched their orbs,
  Or dim suffusion veiled. Yet not the more
  Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
  Clear spring, or shady grove, or sunny hill,
  Smit with the love of sacred song; but chief
  Thee, Sion, and the flowery brooks beneath,
  That wash thy hallowed feet, and warbling flow,
  Nightly I visit: nor sometimes forget
  Those other two equalled with me in fate,
  So were I equalled with them in renown,
  Blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides,
  And Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old:
  Then feed on thoughts that voluntary move
  Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful bird
  Sings darkling, and, in shadiest covert hid,
  Tunes her nocturnal note. Thus with the year
  Seasons return; but not to me returns
  Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
  Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer’s rose,
  Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
  But cloud instead and ever-during dark
  Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
  Cut off, and, for the book of knowledge fair,
  Presented with a universal blank
  Of Nature’s works, to me expunged and rased,
  And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
  So much the rather thou, Celestial Light,
  Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
  Irradiate; there plant eyes; all mist from thence
  Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
  Of things invisible to mortal sight.
                       Book III

“A cold and noble epic."–TAINE.

Paradise regained was written by Milton, judging from a passage in the Autobiography of Thomas Ellwood, in the winter of 1665-6, but was not published until 1671. It was printed at Milton’s expense in a small volume together with Samson Agonistes.

Paradise Regained tells the story of Christ’s temptation in the Wilderness, and the material was taken from the accounts of Matthew and Luke, which the poet, with great skill, expanded without essentially deviating from them.

The title has been criticised on the ground that the poem should have extended over the whole of Christ’s life on earth. But Paradise Regained was written as a sequel to Paradise Lost, and, as in the first poem the poet showed that Paradise was lost by the yielding of Adam and Eve to Satan, so in the second, he wished to show that Paradise was regained by the resistance of Christ to temptation, Satan’s defeat signifying the regaining of Paradise for men by giving them the hope of Christ’s second coming. Therefore the poem naturally ends with Satan’s rebuff and his final abandonment of the attempt on the pinnacle of the Temple.

The poem has been criticised for its shortness, some scholars even affecting to believe it unfinished; its lack of variety, in that it has but two characters, its lack of action, and the absence of figurative language.

But with all these faults, it has a charm of its own, entirely different from that of Paradise Lost. Satan has degenerated during his years of “roaming up and down the earth;” he is no longer the fallen angel of Paradise Lost, who struggled with himself before making evil his good. He is openly given over to evil practices, and makes little effort to play the hypocrite. His temptations are worked up from that of hunger to that of the vision of the kingdoms of the earth with a wonderful power of description which makes up for the lack of action and the few actors. The pathless, rockbound desert, the old man, poorly clad, who accosts the Christ, the mountain-top from which all the earth was visible, the night of horror in the desert, and the sublime figure of the Savior, are all enduring pictures which compensate for any rigidity of treatment. If figurative language is omitted it is because the theme does not need it, and does not show that the poem is less carefully finished than Paradise Lost. Its lack of action and similarity of subject to the longer poem sufficiently account for its not meeting with popular favor. Johnson was correct when he said, “had this poem been written not by Milton, but by some imitator, it would have claimed and received universal praise.”

Bibliography and Criticism, Paradise Regained.

H. C. Beeching, On the Prosody of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, 1889;

Charles Dexter Cleveland’s Complete Concordance to Milton’s Poetical Works, 1867;

William T. Dobson’s The Classic Poets, their Lives and Times etc., 1879;

George Gilfillan’s Second Gallery of Literary Portraits, 1852, pp. 15-16;

Samuel Johnson’s Milton (see his Lives of the Poets, ed. by Mrs. Alexander Napier, 1890, vol. i.);

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Milton (see his Critical and Historical Essays, ed, 10, 1860, vol. i.);

David Masson’s Introduction to Paradise Regained (see his ed. of Milton’s Poetical works, 1893, vol. iii., pp. 1-14);

David Masson’s Life of Milton, 1880, vol. vi., 651-661;

Richard Meadowcourt’s Critique on Milton’s Paradise Regained, 1732;

A Critical Dissertation on Paradise Regained with Notes, 2d ed. 1748;

John Robert Seeley’s Milton (see his Roman Imperialism and other Lectures and Essays, 1871, pp. 152-157);

Mark Pattison’s John Milton (English Men of Letters Series), n. d.;

H. A. Taine’s History of English Literature, Tr. by H. Van Laun, 1877, vol. ii.


Preface  •  The Râmâyana  •  The Story of the Râmâyana  •  Selections From the Râmâyana  •  The Story of the Mahâ-Bhârata  •  Selections From the Mahâ-Bhârata  •  The Iliad  •  The Story of the Iliad  •  Selections From the Iliad  •  The Story of the Odyssey  •  Selections From the Odyssey  •  The Kalevala  •  The Story of the Kalevala  •  Selections From the Kalevala  •  Selection From the Aeneid  •  Beowulf  •  The Story of Beowulf  •  Selection From Beowulf  •  Selections From the Nibelungen Lied  •  The Story of the Song of Roland  •  Selections From the Song of Roland  •  The Story of the Shah-Nameh  •  Selections From the Shah-Nameh  •  The Story of the Poem of the Cid  •  Selections From the Poem of the Cid  •  The Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Hell  •  The Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Purgatory  •  The Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  The Story of the Divine Comedy - The Paradise  •  Selections From the Divine Comedy - Count Ugolino  •  Selection From the Orlando Furioso  •  The Lusiad  •  The Story of the Lusiad  •  Selections From the Lusiad  •  The Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of the Jerusalem Delivered  •  Selection From the Jerusalem Delivered  •  The Story of Paradise Lost  •  Selections From Paradise Lost  •  Apostrophe to Light  •  The Story of Paradise Regained  •  Selection From Paradise Regained