[Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Thu Apr 17 14:52:46 EDT 2014

And yes to what James Fleming says.  This seems to me the basic value of the whole poem.  And it’s not just received ideas about sexuality or morality that are interrogated   The whole project of justification itself, I think, depends on the challenge to what’s received about it, which is why the poem even challenges what we seem to receive from it.  This bit of Adamic acuity in cluelessness suggests, very nicely how the poem works, inviting thought even as it seems to cut it off:

Apt the Mind or Fancie is to roave
Uncheckt, and of her roaving is no end….

The poem both checks and unchecks, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, in that light, that what seems like it’s the end of a conversation here (with its nice, tidy, lesson learned) turns out to be just prelude to a much more complicated and untidy discussion of exactly what has vexed us into further discussion once again.  There is nothing more “at hand” than the details of Adam’s experience of himself, his first apprehensions of life on earth and in Paradise, and finally his loneliness, desires, and erotic experience of Eve, which is what he goes on and on about over the next several hundred lines, offering us all sorts of complicating contexts and pretexts for what happens the next day (not to mention what has already happened and what we’ve already heard Eve say about some of the same things from her perspective—also the narrator’s earlier account of the love the two of them made, ah, the night before).

In the interest of further roving along these lines over into Book 9, I’d like to repeat something I brought up the last time Richard Strier invited us to consider the issue.  I don’t agree with him entirely that there’s no difference between the sex that Adam and Eve have before and after the fall, but in a crucial sense the fact that the two acts (or sets of acts) are more the same than we might conventionally imagine them or expect them to be does make a difference.  Milton’s poising of the two scenes against one another is a centrally powerful example of the challenging power of the poem.

For me the key and most poetically brilliant touch—and it happens to come right before we’re told that the force of the “fallacious Fruit” with its “exhilerating vapor bland” is “exhal’d” out of the bodies of Adam and Eve—is the way that Milton has the narrator call Adam’s and Eve’s taking their “fill of Love and Loves disport” both the “seal” of “thir mutual guilt” and “The solace of thir sin [italics mine].”  “Seal” and “solace.”  A pact, a union, a broken union, a consolation, isolation, impression; “seis’d” and taken largely, nothing loath.  Sole alas, unsavory of itself, but also soul, associate soul, one heart one flesh one soul.  It’s a striking bit of overdetermination (it starts with the more conventional “seal” of guilt and then branches off unchecked from the addition of “solace”—and the further roving is supported by a series of puns and echoes).

So where does that leave us?  Roving, I hope:  back to the bower, and then out of it to the bank and back again, and again.  As long as the heart “be still as loving/ And the moon be still as bright.”  Until the heart is stilled and we go no more, I suppose.

I’m looking forward to making time soon to read John Savoie’s essay, which sounds really interesting to me.


Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of JD Fleming
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:08 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .

Yes. The interest of this whole issue, it seems to me, is the intensity of the challenge that PL presents to received ideas about sexuality and morality--not the way in which it reproduces or conserves them. JD Fleming

From: "Matthew Jordan" <matthewjorda at gmail.com<mailto:matthewjorda at gmail.com>>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
Sent: Thursday, 17 April, 2014 08:42:03
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .
I am moved to recall my - let us call it - amusement at all the students of Kate Belsey and Francis Barker who dutifully reproduced their superiors' strictures on "bourgeois marriage" in first books touchingly dedicated to spouses...

On 17 April 2014 16:10, Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>> wrote:
to all of the salacious images we've been conjuring the past couple of days. This seems to me a wonderful expression of the kind of lovemaking that approaches pre-lapsarian sex in the fallen world--it's not without desire, but it is without lust:

Poem of the Day: Immortal Sails
by Alfred Noyes
Now, in a breath, we'll burst those gates of gold,
   And ransack heaven before our moment fails.
Now, in a breath, before we, too, grow old,
   We'll mount and sing and spread immortal sails.

It is not time that makes eternity.
   Love and an hour may quite out-span the years,
And give us more to hear and more to see
   Than life can wash away with all its tears.

Dear, when we part, at last, that sunset sky
   Shall not be touched with deeper hues than this;
But we shall ride the lightning ere we die
   And seize our brief infinitude of bliss,

With time to spare for all that heaven can tell,
While eyes meet eyes, and look their last farewell.

Source: Collected Poems (1947)
I hope it helps to . . . cleanse the intellectual palate.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM

Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it. -Rene Descartes, philosopher and mathematician (1596-1650)

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James Dougal Fleming
Associate Professor
Department of English
Simon Fraser University

Burnaby -- British Columbia -- Canada.

And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Rev.22:3.

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