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                               66. The Heavenly Chorus, Second Essay

                    Paradise Lost III. 344-415; More on Heaven and the Angelic Song 

 

Thee Father first they sung Omnipotent,
Immutable, Immortal, Infinite,
Eternal King; thee Author of all being,
Fountain of Light, thy self invisible [ 375 ]
Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sit'st
Thron'd inaccessible, but when thou shad'st
The full blaze of thy beams, and through a cloud
Drawn round about thee like a radiant Shrine,
Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appeer, [ 380 ]
Yet dazle Heav'n, that brightest Seraphim
Approach not, but with both wings veil thir eyes,
Thee next they sang of all Creation first,
Begotten Son, Divine Similitude,
In whose conspicuous count'nance, without cloud [ 385 ]
Made visible, th' Almighty Father shines,
Whom else no Creature can behold; on thee
Impresst the effulgence of his Glorie abides,
Transfus'd on thee his ample Spirit rests.
Hee Heav'n of Heavens and all the Powers therein [ 390 ]
By thee created, and by thee threw down
Th' Aspiring Dominations: thou that day
Thy Fathers dreadful Thunder didst not spare,
Nor stop thy flaming Chariot wheels, that shook
Heav'ns everlasting Frame, while o're the necks [ 395 ]
Thou drov'st of warring Angels disarraid.
Back from pursuit thy Powers with loud acclaime
Thee only extoll'd, Son of thy Fathers might,
To execute fierce vengeance on his foes,
Not so on Man; him through their malice fall'n, [ 400 ]
Father of Mercie and Grace, thou didst not doome
So strictly, but much more to pitie encline:
No sooner did thy dear and onely Son
Perceive thee purpos'd not to doom frail Man
So strictly, but much more to pitie enclin'd, [ 405 ]
He to appease thy wrauth, and end the strife
Of Mercy and Justice in thy face discern'd,
Regardless of the Bliss wherein hee sat
Second to thee, offerd himself to die
For mans offence. O unexampl'd love, [ 410 ]
Love no where to be found less then Divine!
Hail Son of God, Saviour of Men, thy Name
Shall be the copious matter of my Song
Henceforth, and never shall my Harp thy praise
Forget, nor from thy Fathers praise disjoine. [ 415 ]

 

I argued in the previous essay that there were some unclear things about the similes in 344-371.  In addition, we don't get a clear sense  of how the fountain and river are related (lines 357-58); there is scholarly disagreement on whether Milton is suggesting that the stream actually flows over certain flowers or whether the flowers are sort of doused occasionally by the water (359). Thus, pedantic debates emerge, such as whether Milton could be referring to some kinds of flowers, like seaweed or other grasses, that actually grow underwater, or whether the words "rolls o'er" means that the flowers, which are normally grown outside of water, are just occasionally submerged. Ridiculous discussions really. But, to be fair to my scholarly colleagues, Milton just isn't clear. He has invited the debate.

He does refer to Scripture, however, when he talks about crowns cast down by the angels (cf. Revelation 4), and the picture of the amaranth that used to grow in Paradise is a wonderful one, but as you look more closely at it, you are confused by time. We read (351-56):

       "With solemn adoration down they cast
     Their crowns inwove with amarant and gold;
     Immortal amarant, a flow'r which once 
     In Paradise, fast by the tree of life,
     Began to bloom; but soon for man's offense
     To Heav'n removed, where first it grew, there grows"

I don't know where he derived the story of the transplanting of the amaranth; the notion of some kind of an "immortal" flower is already reflected in the second-third century Christian Father Clement of Alexandria. But let's consider the timing of this for a second. We are told that this immortal flower was "once" in Paradise, but that it was moved over to Heaven as a result of "man's offense." So it "grew" in Heaven, though it was first planted and "began to bloom" in Paradise. But, where are we now? Heaven. Thus, the flower has already been transplanted. But it only can become transplanted after sin, which hasn't yet happened. So, we are presented with a visual as well as a linguistically confusing tableau in Heaven. 

The remainder of the passage tells about the hymn sung to the Father and the Son. It is here that Milton recovers the clarity of his poetic voice and vision. The Father is described in traditional theological terms ("Omnipotent,/ Immutable, Immortal, Infinite/ Eternal King"--372-74), but then the focus is all on light. So glorious is the brightness of God that it makes Him invisible and His throne inaccessible. Yet, God is merciful and, in order to be perceived by the creatures, God shades the full blaze of the divine beams. In language of incredibly beauty, the angels say about this shade (377-380):

       "but when thou shad'st
     The full blaze of thy beams, and through a cloud
     Drawn round about thee in a radiant shrine,
     Dark with excessive bright thy skirts appear.." 

As one early commentator noted, if God can only be seen when doubly or trebly shaded, by clouds and by angelic wings, what then must be the full blaze of divine glory be like... We see only the "skirts" of God. Perhaps this is an oblique reference to the Book of Exodus, where God passes by Moses and permits him only to see his "back parts"--or the lesser glory of God (Exodus 33:18-23). This description much surpasses Spenser's words of God's light in Heaven:

       "His throne is all incompassed around,
     And hid in his own brightness from the light
     Of all that look thereon.."

Milton takes advantage of this image of dark brightness (a sort of analogue to the "darkness visible" of I.63 which Satan sees in Hell) as he turns to the description of the Son. The heavenly chorus then sang of the "Begotton Son, Divine Similitude" (384), through whom the Father shines. No one can see the Father directly, but the Son, as it were, makes the Father visible "without cloud." This thought is lifted directly from two thoughts in the  Gospel of John (14:9; 1:18):

       "He that has seen me, hath seen the Father" AND "No man hath seen God at any time;        the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" 

The Son does three things in addition to mirroring the Father. First, he "Heav'n of Heav'ns and all the Pow'rs therein...created" (390-91). Then, "by thee threw down/ Th' aspiring Dominations"--i.e., the rebel angels. The description of their defeat is arresting (392-96):

 

      ". . . . . thou that day
     Thy Father's dreadful thunder didst not spare,
     Nor stop thy flaming chariot wheels, that shook
     Heav'n's everlasting frame, while o'er the necks
     Thou drov'st of warring Angels disarrayed..." 

Finally, the Son, after returning to the amazed and appreciative acclaim of the heavenly host, executed mercy, and not fierce vengeance, on mankind (400). The Son appeased the wrath of God (405) quite heedless of the fact that in order to do this he had to give up his second place in Heaven and offer himself to die. As we have previously seen in Book III  (225), the fulness of love divine dwells in the Son. His self-sacrifice for "Man's offense" is an example of "unexampled love,/ Love no where to be found less than Divine," (410-411). 

                                                        Conclusion

Thus, the praise is both to the Father and the Son, the two supreme powers in Heaven. So refulgent is the setting, and so enthusiastic and vigorous the praise that one can scarcely imagine anything marring this beauty. But then we move to the "firm opacous globe" and meet up again with Satan, who is now drawing closer and closer to the first created pair....

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