Monday, April 11, 2011

No one who loves Paradise Lost has ever been able to show me any worth in that work. Was it beautifully written? Yes, and Nazis were well dressed. But poetry is meant to illumine as well as to delight, and the occasionally mad ramblings of Blake and the thoroughly bitter words of Pullman show clearly that the fruit of Milton's tree is indeed death.

There is no way of knowing if Milton would be pleased by his legacy or not. I usually respect the author's word by taking him to mean what he says; I
also, as a rule, credit him with gaining the result from his readers that he intended. In Milton's case, those two things contradict one another.

Concerning what the author said, Milton hated the Roman Catholic Church. Like many Puritans, he despised her beauty, her learning, her history, and all her great works, as well as her popery and dogma. One way to discredit a thing one hates is to link it with that which everyone hates. If a roommate wishes me to stop playing Wagner in my room, then she is likely to say: 'You know he was Hitler's favourite composer, right?' And the mention of that murderer's name does make it difficult for me to roll my eyes at her lack of taste.

So if one loves heroic ideals, splendour in dress and architecture, admires personal ambition which leads to excellence, or any other thing produced from the womb of the Earth, then it isn't a horrible strategy to say such things have their roots in Hell itself.

There is one problem, Milton was so contra natura that what he called evil, any other man (without his religious bias) would call good. And these natural goods, for natural men, overpowered even the taint of diabolic association. The superbly opulent, glittering conclave of the demons in his Paradise Lost, garbed in crimson like cardinals and uttering heroic speeches, their will to strive for greatness even in the face of the impossible, even Satan's unrequited infatuation with Eve, all serve to seduce the souls reading Milton's work. I have never met a soul who did not sympathize with Prometheus against Zeus. Putting the devil in the former's place therefore does not seem like sound pedagogy for Puritan doctrine.

Perhaps this early confusion of sympathies was intended by Milton, who
intended to dispel it by the coming of the angels and God, making the reader ashamed of his earlier, wordly attachment. But Milton's God is unlikable and even unimpressive. His angels are dull, promiscuous creatures (though they still manage to blush), and one finishes the book still considering Satan to be the tragic hero.

Dante showed in his immemorial poetry that the Non Serviam of Lucifer buried the rebel as a prisoner of ice in
his own Hell, drooling and munching the bodies of traitors. He is pathetic, isolated, and hateful for all eternity. The Non Serviam of Milton's Satan may have earned him banishment from Heaven, but it is the kind of noble banishment reflected in the lyrics of Bonnie Dundee:

And awa tae the hills, tae the lee and the rocks
Ere I own a userper I'll couch with the fox
So tremble false whigs in the mid'st o' yer glee
For ye've no seen the last o' my bonnets and me

Like the noble Jacobites, the pious White Russians, or Joss Whedon's iron-willed Browncoats, the fallen angels of Milton may say the same of what they fought for as Malcolm Reynolds said of his cause:

'May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.'

Was Milton so obtuse concerning human nature as to believe his Satan would not be the victor in the hearts of his readers? Or was he truly, as Blake said, '...of the devil's party without knowing it'?

We have Milton then to thank for rendering that insane, baleful utterance, Non Serviam, a courageous thing to say in the eyes of those who do not adore God. Last Friday such a phrase emerged again (with cataclysmic import) in the media.

A powerful man was given the opportunity to repent for his former misdeeds, to take a stand for the weak and helpless, and to do so without losing any more face that he had already lost amongst his former admirers. He could easily have blamed a majority that forced his hand; he was not asked to perform an act of sacrificial heroism. No Calvary was waiting for him if he had done the right thing.

Instead, this vitaphobic shell of a statesman stood his ground for the most brutal evil of our 'civilized' age: the murder of a child to protect her parents' right to indulge their sexuality. While sewing his own nation's soil with salt, he simultaneously rubbed it into the wounds of those who care. The money for these murders would still come out of their hard-pressed pockets.

Of course, not being an eloquent or poetic man, the American President did not quote Lucifer at the endgame. He put it far more simply.

But when Boehner later asked for the elimination of funds for Title X -- spending for women's health and family planning organizations that also provide abortion services, the aide said the president flatly refused.

The president replied, "Nope. Zero."

Boehner continued to push to discuss the funds, the aide recalled.

The President repeated: "Nope. Zero."

"'John, this is it,'" the aide described the president as saying. "'This is it, John."

There was a long pause as no one spoke in the Oval Office spoke. [sic]


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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