Thursday, December 31, 2009

Milton's Eden: "There is a season"?

(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I noted that Milton seems to give Adam and Eve a prelapsarian understanding of the seasons that will characterize only the postlapsarian world, so let us turn unto the seasons that occur throughout Paradise Lost.

I've gone through the text looking for the term "season" in both singular and plural, and I've gathered below the occurrences other than those noted yesterday (though I might have missed some, I suppose). My purpose is not yet to analyze in much depth but to merely record with a few observations.

First, in Eve's rather too-submissive words to Adam:
To whom thus Eve with perfet beauty adornd.
My Author and Disposer, what thou bidst
Unargu'd I obey; so God ordains,
God is thy Law, thou mine: to know no more
Is womans happiest knowledge and her praise.
With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and thir change, all please alike. (PL 4.634-640)
Note that Eve refers to "All seasons and thir change," though there were none and was no seasonal change in prelapsarian Eden.

Next, after the rebuking words of Abdiel to Satan:
So spake the fervent Angel, but his zeale
None seconded, as out of season judg'd . . . . (PL 5.850)
This reference could be figurative, but without seasons (for surely none in heaven!), what is the reference? Perhaps this reflects solely the narrator's postlapsarian understanding.

Now in God's creative act, among the Lord's own words:
Again th' Almightie spake: Let there be Lights
High in th' expanse of Heaven to divide
The Day from Night; and let them be for Signes,
For Seasons, and for Dayes, and circling Years,
And let them be for Lights as I ordaine
Thir Office in the Firmament of Heav'n
To give Light on the Earth; and it was so. (PL 7.339-345)
Is the Lord pre-arranging the Fall? Stated as a purpose for the "Lights / High in th' expanse of Heaven" is to "be for Signes, / For Seasons." Or is the meaning that celestial seasons pass even though no earthly changes from spring to winter take place?

More divine creativity:
Mean while the tepid Caves, and Fens and shoares
Thir Brood as numerous hatch, from the Egg that soon
Bursting with kindly rupture forth disclos'd
Thir callow young, but featherd soon and fledge
They summ'd thir Penns, and soaring th' air sublime
With clang despis'd the ground, under a cloud
In prospect; there the Eagle and the Stork
On Cliffs and Cedar tops thir Eyries build:
Part loosly wing the Region, part more wise
In common, rang'd in figure wedge thir way,
Intelligent of seasons, and set forth
Thir Aierie Caravan high over Sea's
Flying, and over Lands with mutual wing
Easing thir flight; (PL 7.417-430)
What is meant by the birds being "Intelligent of seasons" in a prelapsarian world where such 'intelligence' is unnecessary? Does the narrator mean that the birds are aware of the sun's annual passage along the celestial equator (not yet an ecliptic) even though this has no practical significance? Or are they given knowledge that they will soon enough require?

And in a many-worlds hypothesis:
Witness this new-made World, another Heav'n
From Heaven Gate not farr, founded in view
On the cleer Hyaline, the Glassie Sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with Starr's
Numerous, and every Starr perhaps a World
Of destind habitation; but thou know'st
Thir seasons: among these the seat of men,
Earth with her nether Ocean circumfus'd,
Thir pleasant dwelling place. (PL 7.617-625)
Other worlds with their own seasons? God only knows!

But asking questions is okay:
To ask or search I blame thee not, for Heav'n
Is as the Book of God before thee set,
Wherein to read his wondrous Works, and learne
His Seasons, Hours, or Dayes, or Months, or Yeares:
This to attain, whether Heav'n move or Earth,
Imports not, if thou reck'n right, the rest
From Man or Angel the great Architect
Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge
His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought
Rather admire; (PL 8.66-75)
Read from the book of nature, written by God, and "learne / His Seasons," whatever that might import.

But the great lapse grows near on the morning of the great temptation:
Now when as sacred Light began to dawne
In Eden on the humid Flours, that breathd
Thir morning incense, when all things that breath,
From th' Earths great Altar send up silent praise
To the Creator, and his Nostrils fill
With grateful Smell, forth came the human pair
And joind thir vocal Worship to the Quire
Of Creatures wanting voice, that done, partake
The season, prime for sweetest Sents and Aires:
Then commune how that day they best may ply
Thir growing work: for much thir work outgrew
The hands dispatch of two Gardning so wide. (PL 9.192-203)
All living things rise to "partake / The season"? Perhaps of 'eternal' springtime?

But things are soon fallen enough, and seasons begin to make sense:
How much more, if we pray him, will his ear
Be open, and his heart to pitie incline,
And teach us further by what means to shun
Th' inclement Seasons, Rain, Ice, Hail and Snow,
Which now the Skie with various Face begins
To shew us in this Mountain, while the Winds
Blow moist and keen, shattering the graceful locks
Of these fair spreading Trees; (PL 10.1060-1067)
Now, with the "inclement Seasons," the turning world begins to make sense.

The word "season" now fits, in the Archangel Michael's words to Adam:
. . . go, waken Eve;
Her also I with gentle Dreams have calm'd
Portending good, and all her spirits compos'd
To meek submission: thou at season fit
Let her with thee partake what thou hast heard,
Chiefly what may concern her Faith to know,
The great deliverance by her Seed to come
(For by the Womans Seed) on all Mankind. (PL 12.594-601)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, December 2009]
The metaphorical "season fit" now has a practical referent.

Speaking of fit seasons, as the year itself now turns toward 2010, think on the stone-gathered words of Kohelet:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Go then to You Tube and listen to The Byrds sing their version of "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

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