Reading selections from Paradise Lost; Milton's Prosody

Book I: all

Book II: all

Book III: lines 1-415; Next: Satan, disguising himself as a young angel, gets directions from the archangel Uriel and spirals down to a mountain top overlooking the site of Paradise.

Book IV: lines 1-775; Next: Uriel, suspicious of the disguised Satan, reports to Gabriel, who sends two angels to watch over Adam and Eve's bower. The angels find Satan, "squat like a toad," whispering into the ear of the sleeping Eve; thus discovered, Satan flees.

Book V: lines 1-135; Next: Raphael, sent by God to remind the humans of their danger, comes to lunch; to emphasize his point, he begins to tell the story of Satan's revolt.

Book VI: Summary: the war in Heaven continues; Satan is wounded; the Son is victorious.

Book VII: ll. 1-39 (the 3rd invocation in the poem); Next: Raphael narrates the creation of the earth and humans.

Book VIII: ll. 249-end; In this excerpt, Adam tells the story of his own creation

Book IX: all

Book X: ll. 414-584; 706-end; These excerpts narrate Satan's report of his success to the fallen angels and the reconciliation of Adam and Eve.

Book XI: none; In Book XI, the angel Michael takes Adam to a mountain top to show him the future of mankind, that is, to narrate the Old Testament stories through the story of Noah and the flood.

Book XII: ll. 465-end; this excerpt comes when Michael, having told the rest of the story of human history through the death and resurrection of Christ, prepares Adam and Eve to leave Eden.

Milton's Prosody

Metaphoric Structures: Paradise Lost is a richly structured poem; I point out here only two of the most pervasive patterns that are so common they become structural elements.



Prosody: The meter of PL is blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter). Such a scheme calls for 5 feet with a stress pattern of unstressed to stressed (x -). However Milton avoids regularity (and therefore tedium) in a number of ways, some linguistic, some metric. This subject is too complicated for me to do more than suggest a few devices for you to look for: rise/fall and dark/light imagery; number, kind, and placement of the caesura; enjambed and end-stopped lines; the interplay of polysyllabic and monosyllabic words (often rendered in the interplay of Latinate and "plain English" words); echoes of lines; creation imagery.


Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms.


Note the effect when a creative use of the cæsura, enjambment, and syllabic variations occur together, mixed further with rise/fall and dark/light imagery, the mocking echoes of Moloch's just-concluded militant speech; and the interplay of simple (often mono-syllabic) words and poly-syllabic Latinate words (I love in particular the effect of an enjambed line that rushes on to "hover" and end abruptly on a poly-syllabic Latinate word, as in ll. 130-31 and ll. 141-42 below):

First, what revenge? The tow'rs of heav'n are filled
With armèd watch, that render all access
Impregnable; oft on the bordering deep
Encamp their legions, or with óbscure wing
Scout far and wide into the realm of Night,
Scorning surprise.  Or could we break our way
By force, and at our heels all hell should rise
With blackest insurrection, to confound
Heav'ns purest light, yet our great enemy
All incorruptible would on his throne
Sit unpolluted, and th' ethereal mold
Incapable of stain would soon expel
Her mischief, and purge off the baser fire