In my ongoing quest to read everything C. S. Lewis wrote, I have not yet gotten to his preface to Paradise Lost, and I decided not to read it until I had first read the poem myself. So I’ve been wading through Milton’s epic.
It’s not an easy read, but I’m getting the hang of it. Every once in a while, I come across some pearls, both theologically and in Milton’s choice of words. For instance, now I’m aware of where one quote comes from that I’ve heard all my life. Here’s a comment from Satan, speaking to the fallen angels who joined in his revolt:
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.
Later, Milton compose a soliloquy from God the Father to the Son, making it clear who will be to blame if man gives in to sin:
Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all the ethereal powers and spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
We always want to blame someone or something else for our failure to obey God. That doesn’t work; we choose our path.
I also found it rather fascinating when Milton attempted to show Satan’s own reaction to the possibility of repenting for what he had done. He gives us an interesting back-and-forth in the mind of Satan as he contemplates the awfulness of his rebellion:
Is there no place left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame among the spirits beneath, whom I seduced with other promises and other vaunts than to submit, boasting I could subdue the omnipotent.
Ay me, they little know how dearly I abide that boast so vain, under what torments inwardly I groan: while they adore me on the throne of hell, with diadem and scepter high advanced the lower still I fall, only supreme in misery. . . .
But say I could repent and could obtain by act of grace my former state; how soon would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay what feigned submission swore: ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.
For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep: which would but lead me to a worse relapse, and heavier fall.
I’m in book six of twelve and unsure how long it may take to finish, but I’m going to persevere. How often I have personally bemoaned (how’s that for a poetic word rarely used nowadays?) the poor education I received in my formative years. Now, in my sixties, I have this yearning to make up for what I’ve missed.
So, as much as I want to read Lewis’s preface to this work, I believe I have to devote myself to the poem itself first. As I find more pearls, I may share them with you.