[Milton-L] Milton and "the majesty of darkness" (was "Credited Wiki")

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Sat Nov 4 10:41:17 EDT 2017

Thanks, John.

Also the narrator, Adam, and Eve all praise the coming of
"grateful Evening" at PL 4.598-714 and 646-40. However, the total darkness
of primordial
Chaos is hostile to life. Hence the darkness of earthly night is tempered
by dim light from the heavenly bodies (4.665-67).


On Sat, Nov 4, 2017 at 9:23 AM, John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:

> In the note he appends to his illustration of Satan as “a black man,”
> Terrance Liddell writes: “In Paradise Lost clearly dark is bad and light is
> good. So Satan as a black man might be symbolically appropriate. . .” But
> is it really the case in *Paradise Lost* that “dark is bad and light is
> good”? The statement has a certain prima facie plausibility based on some
> memorable lines (“Hail holy light”, “what in me is dark,” “the dark
> unbottomed infinite abyss”) which is no doubt why the topic of “dark and
> light” has so often (and boringly) been assigned for student essays. (I
> wonder if that is where Terrance’s image comes from?) Milton’s imagination
> is much richer than this crude binary. Some of his most hauntingly
> beautiful images come from the mingling of light and dark, and the
> challenging of our easy assumption that “dark is bad and light is good.”
> Recall the eclipse simile in book one where Satan “darkened so, yet shone.”
> Milton’s Satan is the Prince of Twilight, not the Prince of Darkness.  If
> there is something light about Hell’s darkness, there is also something
> dark about Heaven’s light. God also has his dark side, and not in a bad way:
>                                                        This deep world
>       Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst
>       Thick clouds and dark doth Heav’n’s all-ruling Sire
>       Choose to reside, his glory unobscured,
>       And with the majesty of darkness round
>       Covers his throne; from whence deep thunders roar
>       Must’ring their rage, and Heav’n resembles Hell?
>       As he our darkness, cannot we his light
>       Imitate when we please? (PL 2.262-70)
> The speaker is admittedly Mammon, but the lines also have a ring of truth
> (biblical truth): “he made darkness his secret place” (Ps. 18); “the Lord
> hath said he would dwell in thick darkness” (II Chron. 6.1). Terrance
> coarsens both Milton’s art and his own with that flat statement “in
> Paradise Lost clearly dark is bad and light is good.” Mammon claims
> darkness for Hell, but his acknowledgement of God’s “majesty of darkness”
> gives him the lie. Hell’s darkness, no less than its light, is plagiarized
> from Heaven (“cannot we . . . Imitate when we please?”)
> John Leonard
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