[Milton-L] The moral status of Hell

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Wed Jan 21 15:52:04 EST 2015


All very orthodox.  Too bad Milton isn't.  But this is a lifetime conversation, ands not really the point.  I am always disappointed that Milton did not believe that everyone, including Satan, would eventually be saved.  Some of his contemporaries did, in fact, believe this, so the belief was available, especially to a daring and independent mind.

I believe the idea of Hell to be one of the most monstrous ideas the  human mind ever created, so I am not very impressed by the humanity of Xtian orthodoxy here.  Purgatory is a morally admirable idea.  Hell is not.  Oh what a delight to watch them suffer, or just to know that they are.  And notions like -- "they willfully embrace their sins over and over again" -- are just ways to try to justify perpetual torture.  Pity the folks who believe Hell makes sense.  Very Christian.

RS
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From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Stella Revard [srevard at siue.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 11:36 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Particular Falls"

Interesting that Empson's influence is so strong.  My take is quite different, probably because I think Empson so mistaken about Milton's God. I propose that "Pity their god" recognizes the actual Miltonic account, carefully laid out in Book III and reinforced in Books X, XI, and XII:  God created a universe of perfect beings who were also given free will so they could go utterly wrong, and even if they did go wrong those who by grace repented would be freed from Hell and death.  But (in Milton's version, which correlates mostly with Christian doctrine) the means to achieve this, as the dialogue between God and Son in Book III carefully explains, is the begetting of God's only Son, who takes upon himself the guilt and the punishment due to those who fell (this salvation was available to Satan and his cohorts, but repeatedly refused, as Milton makes amply clear in Books I, II, IV and V and VI as well as throughout the poem).  The Son, fully divine, must therefore suffer inexpressibly and endure death itself, but as we hear in his dialogue with God the Father in Book III, he will not be left, but will be taken from the grave and brought back up to Heaven--as will all those who by grace are saved and will at the end of time enter into Heaven.

So I propose that "Pity their god" may evoke the suffering of the Son:  we are asked to pity the god who created angels and humans and a beautiful perfect universe, and who after a third of the angels and all the humans fell, must see his only begotten Son suffer and die to redeem them.  Milton's God, like the old curmudgeon of the Book of Job, seems impervious--but the point of Book III is that the Son expresses the mercy, love, and compassion of the Father.  Father and Son together are to be pitied....

What so disgusted Empson, I assume, is that Milton's God never says he's sorry, and lays the blame on those who fell.  The analogy I would draw is to a judge hearing the lawsuit against a drunken driver who crashed the car and killed all the family, as well as those in another car--even though roads, weather, car, and traffic were ideal.  One would expect at least that the judge, however strict in laying legal blame, would express pity and compassion for all those killed.  So I will point out that just such pity and compassion is expressed in Paradise Lost by the Son, and that Empson really should have read not only Book III but also Books X, XI, and XII, a bit more carefully--though I realize that would ask more than brilliant readers are willing to do once they have made up their minds about matters.  I venerate Empson's Studies in Words, and Pastoral Poetry, and many essays--truly one of the most brilliant and original readers in all the history of English letters.  I think however he is quite wrong about Milton's God.

AND: NANCY, IT WOULD BE LOVELY IF YOU COULD BUNDLE AND SEND SOME OF THESE COMMENTS ON THE POEM BY PATTIANN ROGERS TO THE GEORGIA REVIEW.  If she is like most poets she may not want to address our discussion, but it would be interesting if she did.

I'd add only:  my compliments to her on a fine poem.  I wish I'd written it!

Carter Revard

On 01/20/15, "Richard A. Strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:

Of course the last three words are meant to be a shock.  No preparation for this shift.  But I think the point is indeed pure Empson.  The divine being who wills such a situation is a horrible moral being.  One could, of course, fear this being, but that would be what it wants.  The poet has the right perspective, the truly moral one.  A divine being who cannot conceive of loving its enemies is indeed pathetic in its limitations.  Milton's God.

RS
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From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Matthew Jordan [matthewjorda at gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 6:10 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Particular Falls"


John: is your implication something like - "if there is such a god as the one they imagine / have dreamt up, it's one we should pity"?

Again, stating the obv.: "bleakest" a (the?) crucial word...

On 20 January 2015 at 23:55, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
Which then suggests God as inconsolable parent...

On 20 January 2015 at 23:53, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
I'm also thinking of the famous Herbert poems which stage divine intercession...

On 20 January 2015 at 23:44, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
Ie. there are falls which are part of a larger movement or harmony, and falls which, er, aren't...there is pattern or order to the late falls, here, but it's static - or at least not, aha, regenerative...or summat...

On 20 January 2015 at 23:41, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
Sometimes particular verbal cruces get me going, sometimes more nebulous notions.

I'm starting vague, here: Fortunate Fall (obv.), plus something I think I once read in Michael McKeon, tho I can hardly believe he was the first: that the idea of "poetic justice" takes hold in a world that no longer believes in the other kind...

Please bear in mind it's rather later, here; at least for me...

On 20 January 2015 at 21:44, john rumrich <rumrich at austin.utexas.edu <rumrich at austin.utexas.edu>> wrote:


The last three words are intriguing metrically, too, since after the initial trochee (Never) the line changes from two successive iambic feet (to hope to rise) to a trochee (Pity) and then to what in the metrical context reads to me like an ambiguous iamb with a lot of stress on "their."  Their god might not be god unmodified by a possessive.

I'm not denying the Empsonian ambiguity; it strikes me as as even more ambiguous than that, however.

{This was bounced at first; I'm now sending a slightly modified version from my institutional address.}


On Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 3:26 PM, john rumrich <rumrichj at gmail.com <rumrichj at gmail.com>> wrote:
The last three words are intriguing metrically, too, since the line changes from two successive iambic feet to a trochee and then to what reads to me like an ambiguous iamb with a lot of stress on "their."  Their god might not be god unmodified by a possessive.

I'm not denying the Empsonian ambiguity; it strikes me as as even more ambiguous than that, however.

On Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 2:36 PM, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
Just very quickly (for now): the notion I had in mind was a kind of step beyond Empson's view of Milton's God - that He's a horror, but horrors are also pitiable and pitiful...I haven't thought through the rest of the poem in light of that possibility...yet...



On 20 January 2015 at 20:14, Stella Revard <srevard at siue.edu <srevard at siue.edu>> wrote:
Okay, the real challenge of the poem is its last three words, in which I assume Rogers shocks us with what seems a request to her readers (us) to have pity on "their" god, and I assume the antecedent of "their" is the fallen angels.  (A possible alternative reading might take "pity" as a noun....)  What do you expert readers of poetry think is her point in those last three words, which seem to bring the whole poem to such a (to me) surprising completion?  Why pity, and why pity for "their god," not for the fallen beings in their hopeless eternal torment?  And would a good answer here bring out even more strongly the "Miltonic" dimensions of the poem?
Maybe useful questions for MLK Day.

With best wishes,
Carter

On 01/20/15, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>> wrote:
It may be almost too obvious to say, but the "Not...not..." thing (and "nec...nec"?) is typically Miltonic / epic...

On 20 January 2015 at 16:15, Matthew Jordan <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com> <matthewjorda at gmail.com <matthewjorda at gmail.com>>> wrote:
Good stuff! Thanks.

As a comparison / contrast, my recollection is that in eg. Augustine, rather gruesomely (morbidly??), one of the pleasures of the saved is precisely their good view of the suffering of the damned . . . (?)

Best, Matt

On 20 January 2015 at 16:06, Stella Revard <srevard at siue.edu <srevard at siue.edu> <srevard at siue.edu <srevard at siue.edu>>> wrote:
Thanks, Nancy, for sending on the poem by Pattiann Rogers.  She is one of the best poets now writing in the US, but has not been given her due by the cliquers and claquers of the Award Giving dumbasses.  And the Georgia Review prints a lot of veryt fine work. Nice to know you are reading it well.


On 01/20/15, Hannibal Hamlin <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com> <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com <hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com>>> wrote:
Thanks. The use of enjambment (all that carefully positioned falling) also seems somewhat Miltonic.

Hannibal


On Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 2:36 AM, Nancy Charlton <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com> <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com>> <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com> <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com <charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com>>>> wrote:
I felt that you all would enjoy this poem. Since I couldn't get Poetry Daily to send it from their form, I'll take my chances with the copyright police and simply copy it into this email.

The last stanza (?) is particularly Miltonic.

Nancy Charlton

Particular Falls


Not as three strands of braided hair,
being loosened, fall then together in waves
to touch the shoulders; and not as a white-
winged hawk releases and falls sinking
on the wind until its wings swerve upward
riding the current again toward the sun.

Not the freefall that comes before
the parachute spreads and opens above
like a prayer and halts the plunge;
and not the tumbling fall of an acrobat
before he catches the trapeze his partner
drops as she falls to catch his feet.
Not any of those falls.

And not the continual plummeting
fall of mountain snowmelt creating icy
weather in summer; nor the spider gliding
down her string, floating more than falling
in descent just as day falls and drifts
in its own ways into night; and not as one falls
with eyes closed into sleep where faith
is with the falling; nor as one falls
into love where riotous ascent begins
simultaneous with the falling.

But consider the falling that is immutable:
the naked body of a nestling lying spilled
and broken on the sidewalk; wind-felled fruit,
sick odor of rotting pulp below the tree, slick
mass oozing into earth; the cold, frightening
stillness of those who lie fallen in battle.

And remember the story of the bleakest
fall, the fall of those who once were angels,
who fell and fell into the deepest chasm
of blindness, irredeemable, never to rise,
never to hope to rise. Pity their god.


PATTIANN ROGERS<http://poems.com/feature.php?date=16455>

The Georgia Review<http://garev.uga.edu/>
Winter 2014

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