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John Milton. (1608–1674). Complete Poems.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


Paradise Lost: The Second Book

THE ARGUMENT.—The consultation begun, Satan debates whether another battle is to be hazarded for the recovery of Heaven: some advise it, others dissuade. A third proposal is preferred, mentioned before by Satan—to search the truth of that prophecy or tradition in Heaven concerning another world, and another kind of creature, equal, or not much inferior, to themselves, about this time to be created. Their doubt who shall be sent on this difficult search: Satan, their chief, undertakes alone the voyage; is honoured and applauded. The council thus ended, the rest betake them several ways and to several imployments, as their inclinations lead them, to entertain the time till Satan return. He passes on his journey to Hell-gates; finds them shut, and who sat there to guard them; by whom at length they are opened, and discover to him the great gulf between Hell and Heaven. With what difficulty he passes through, directed by Chaos, the Power of that place, to the sight of this new World which he sought.

HIGH on a throne of royal state, which far

Outshon the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,

Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand

Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,

Satan exalted sat, by merit raised

To that bad eminence; and, from despair

Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires

Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue

Vain war with Heaven; and, by success untaught,

His proud imaginations thus displayed:—

“Powers and Dominions, Deities of Heaven!—

For, since no deep within her gulf can hold

Immortal vigour, though oppressed and fallen,

I give not Heaven for lost: from this descent

Celestial Virtues rising will appear

More glorious and more dread than from no fall,

And trust themselves to fear no second fate!—

Me though just right, and the fixed laws of Heaven,

Did first create your leader—next, free choice,

With what besides in council or in fight

Hath been achieved of merit—yet this loss,

Thus far at least recovered, hath much more

Established in a safe, unenvied throne,

Yielded with full consent. The happier state

In Heaven, which follows dignity, might draw

Envy from each inferior; but who here

Will envy whom the highest place exposes

Foremost to stand against the Thunderer’s aim

Your bulwark, and condemns to greatest share

Of endless pain? Where there is, then, no good

For which to strive, no strife can grow up there

From faction: for none sure will claim in Hell

Precedence; none whose portion is so small

Of present pain that with ambitious mind

Will covet more! With this advantage, then,

To union, and firm faith, and firm accord,

More than can be in Heaven, we now return

To claim our just inheritance of old,

Surer to prosper than prosperity

Could have assured us; and by what best way,

Whether of open war or covert guile,

We now debate. Who can advise may speak.”

He ceased; and next him Moloch, sceptred king,

Stood up—the strongest and the fiercest Spirit

That fought in Heaven, now fiercer by despair.

His trust was with the Eternal to be deemed

Equal in strength, and rather than be less

Cared not to be at all; with that care lost

Went all his fear: of God, or Hell, or worse,

He recked not, and these words thereafter spake:—

“My sentence is for open war. Of wiles,

More unexpert, I boast not: them let those

Contrive who need, or when they need; not now.

For, while they sit contriving, shall the rest—

Millions that stand in arms, and longing wait

The signal to ascend—sit lingering here,

Heaven’s fugitives, and for their dwelling-place

Accept this dark opprobrious den of shame,

The prison of His tyranny who reigns

By our delay? No! let us rather choose,

Armed with Hell-flames and fury, all at once

O’er Heaven’s high towers to force resistless way,

Turning our tortures into horrid arms

Against the torturer; when, to meet the noise

Of his almighty engine, he shall hear

Infernal thunder, and, for lightning, see

Black fire and horror shot with equal rage

Among his Angels and his throne itself

Mixed with Tartarean sulphur and strange fire,

His own invented torments. But perhaps

The way seems difficult, and steep to scale

With upright wing against a higher foe!

Let such bethink them, if the sleepy drench

Of that forgetful lake benumb not still,

That in our proper motion we ascend

Up to our native seat; descent and fall

To us is adverse. Who but felt of late,

When the fierce foe hung on our broken rear

Insulting, and pursued us through the Deep,

With what compulsion and laborious flight

We sunk thus low? The ascent is easy, then;

The event is feared! Should we again provoke

Our stronger, some worse way his wrath may find

To our destruction, if there be in Hell

Fear to be worse destroyed! What can be worse

Than to dwell here, driven out from bliss, condemned

In this abhorred deep to utter woe;

Where pain of unextinguishable fire

Must exercise us without hope of end

The vassals of his anger, when the scourge

Inexorably, and the torturing hour,

Calls us to penance? More destroyed than thus,

We should be quite abolished, and expire.

What fear we then? what doubt we to incense

His utmost ire? which, to the highth enraged,

Will either quite consume us, and reduce

To nothing this essential—happier far

Than miserable to have eternal being!—

Or, if our substance be indeed Divine,

And cannot cease to be, we are at worst

On this side nothing; and by proof we feel

Our power sufficient to disturb his Heaven,

And with perpetual inroads to alarm,

Though inaccessible, his fatal Throne:

Which, if not victory, is yet revenge.”

He ended frowning, and his look denounced

Desperate revenge, and battle dangerous

To less than gods. On the other side up rose

Belial, in act more graceful and humane.

A fairer person lost not Heaven; he seemed

For dignity composed, and high exploit.

But all was false and hollow, though his tongue

Dropt manna, and could make the worse appear

The better reason, to perplex and dash

Maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low—

To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds

Timorous and slothful. Yet he pleased the ear,

And with persuasive accent thus began:—

“I should be much for open war, O Peers,

As not behind in hate, if what was urged

Main reason to persuade immediate war

Did not dissuade me most, and seem to cast

Ominous conjecture on the whole success;

When he who most excels in fact of arms,

In what he counsels and in what excels

Mistrustful, grounds his courage on despair

And utter dissolution, as the scope

Of all his aim, after some dire revenge.

First, what revenge? The towers of Heaven are filled

With armèd watch, that render all access

Impregnable: oft on the bordering Deep

Encamp their legions, or with obscure wing

Scout far and wide into the realm of Night,

Scorning surprise. Or, could we break our way

By force, and at our heels all Hell should rise

With blackest insurrection to confound

Heaven’s purest light, yet our great Enemy,

All incorruptible, would on his throne

Sit unpolluted, and the ethereal mould,

Incapable of stain, would soon expel

Her mischief, and purge off the baser fire,

Victorious. Thus repulsed, our final hope

Is flat despair: we must exasperate

The Almighty Victor to spend all his rage:

And that must end us; that must be our cure—

To be no more. Sad cure! for who would lose,

Though full of pain, this intellectual being,

Those thoughts that wander through eternity,

To perish rather, swallowed up and lost

In the wide womb of uncreated Night,

Devoid of sense and motion? and who knows,

Let this be good, whether our angry Foe

Can give it, or will ever? How he can

Is doubtful; that he never will is sure.

Will He, so wise, let loose at once his ire,

Belike through impotence or unaware,

To give his enemies their wish, and end

Them in his anger whom his anger saves

To punish endless? ‘Wherefore cease we, then?’

Say they who counsel war; ‘we are decreed,

Reserved, and destined to eternal woe;

Whatever doing, what can we suffer more,

What can we suffer worse?’ Is this, then, worst—

Thus sitting, thus consulting, thus in arms?

What when we fled amain, pursued and strook

With Heaven’s afflicting thunder, and besought

The Deep to shelter us? This Hell then seemed

A refuge from those wounds. Or when we lay

Chained on the burning lake? That sure was worse.

What if the breath that kindled those grim fires,

Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage,

And plunge us in the flames; or from above

Should intermitted vengeance arm again

His red right hand to plague us? What if all

Her stores were opened, and this firmament

Of Hell should spout her cataracts of fire,

Impendent horrors, threatening hideous fall

One day upon our heads; while we perhaps,

Designing or exhorting glorious war,

Caught in a fiery tempest, shall be hurled.

Each on his rock transfixed, the sport and prey

Of racking whirlwinds, or for ever sunk

Under yon boiling ocean, wrapt in chains,

There to converse with everlasting groans,

Unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved,

Ages of hopeless end? This would be worse.

War, therefore, open or concealed, alike

My voice dissuades; for what can force or guile

With Him, or who deceive His mind, whose eye

Views all things at one view? He from Heaven’s highth

All these our motions vain sees and derides,

Not more almighty to resist our might

Than wise to frustrate all our plots and wiles.

Shall we, then, live thus vile—the race of Heaven

Thus trampled, thus expelled, to suffer here

Chains and these torments? Better these than worse

By my advice; since fate inevitable

Subdues us, and omnipotent decree,

The Victor’s will. To suffer, as to do,

Our strength is equal; nor the law unjust

That so ordains. This was at first resolved,

If we were wise, against so great a foe

Contending, and so doubtful what might fall.

I laugh when those who at the spear are bold

And ventrous, if that fail them, shrink, and fear

What yet they know must follow—to endure

Exile, or ignominy, or bonds, or pain,

The sentence of their conqueror. This is now

Our doom; which if we can sustain and bear,

Our Supreme Foe in time may such remit

His anger, and perhaps, thus far removed,

Not mind us not offending, satisfied

With what is punished; whence these raging fires

Will slacken, if his breath stir not their flames.

Our purer essence then will overcome

Their noxious vapour; or, inured, not feel;

Or, changed at length, and to the place conformed

In temper and in nature, will receive

Familiar the fierce heat; and void of pain,

This horror will grow mild, this darkness light;

Besides what hope the never-ending flight

Of future days may bring, what chance, what change

Worth waiting—since our present lot appears

For happy though but ill, for ill not worst,

If we procure not to ourselves more woe.”

Thus Belial, with words clothed in reason’s garb,

Counselled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth,

Not peace; and after him thus Mammon spake:—

“Either to disinthrone the King of Heaven

We war, if war be best, or to regain

Our own right lost. Him to unthrone we then

May hope, when everlasting Fate shall yield

To fickle Chance, and Chaos judge the strife.

The former, vain to hope, argues as vain

The latter; for what place can be for us

Within Heaven’s bound, unless Heaven’s Lord Supreme

We overpower? Suppose he should relent,

And publish grace to all, on promise made

Of new subjection; with what eyes could we

Stand in his presence humble, and receive

Strict laws imposed, to celebrate his throne

With warbled hymns, and to his Godhead sing

Forced Halleluiahs, while he lordly sits

Our envied sovran, and his altar breathes

Ambrosial odours and ambrosial flowers,

Our servile offerings? This must be our task

In Heaven, this our delight. How wearisome

Eternity so spent in worship paid

To whom we hate! Let us not then pursue,

By force impossible, by leave obtained

Unacceptable, though in Heaven, our state

Of splendid vassalage; but rather seek

Our own good from ourselves, and from our own

Live to ourselves, though in this vast recess,

Free and none accountable, preferring

Hard liberty before the easy yoke

Of servile pomp. Our greatness will appear

Then most conspicuous when great things of small,

Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse,

We can create, and in what place soe’er

Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain

Through labour and indurance. This deep world

Of darkness do we dread? How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth Heaven’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,

Mustering their rage, and Heaven resembles Hell!

As He our darkness, cannot we His light

Imitate when we please? This desart soil

Wants not her hidden lustre, gems and gold;

Nor want we skill or art from whence to raise

Magnificence; and what can Heaven shew more?

Our torments also may, in length of time,

Become our elements, these piercing fires

As soft as now severe, our temper changed

Into their temper; which must needs remove

The sensible of pain. All things invite

To peaceful counsels, and the settled state

Of order, how in safety best we may

Compose our present evils, with regard

Of what we are and where, dismissing quite

All thoughts of war. Ye have what I advise.”

He scarce had finished, when such murmur filled

The assembly as when hollow rocks retain

The sound of blustering winds, which all night long

Had roused the sea, now with hoarse cadence lull

Seafaring men o’erwatched, whose bark by chance,

Or pinnace, anchors in a craggy bay

After the tempest. Such applause was heard

As Mammon ended, and his sentence pleased,

Advising peace: for such another field

They dreaded worse than Hell; so much the fear

Of thunder and the sword of Michaël

Wrought still within them; and no less desire

To found this nether empire, which might rise,

By policy and long process’ of time,

In emulation opposite to Heaven.

Which when Beëlzebub perceived—than whom,

Satan except, none higher sat—with grave

Aspect he rose, and in his rising seemed

A pillar of state. Deep on his front engraven

Deliberation sat, and public care;

And princely counsel in his face yet shon,

Majestic, though in ruin. Sage he stood,

With Atlantean shoulders, fit to bear

The weight of mightiest monarchies; his look

Drew audience and attention still as night

Or summer’s noontide air, while thus he spake:—

“Thrones and Imperial Powers, Offspring of Heaven,

Ethereal Virtues! or these titles now

Must we renounce, and, changing style, be called

Princes of Hell? for so the popular vote

Inclines—here to continue, and build up here

A growing empire; doubtless! while we dream;

And know not that the king of Heaven hath doomed

This place our dungeon—not our safe retreat

Beyond his potent arm, to live exempt

From Heaven’s high jurisdiction, in new league

Banded against his throne, but to remain

In strictest bondage, though thus far removed,

Under the inevitable curb, reserved

His captive multitude. For He, be sure,

In highth of depth, still first and last will reign

Sole king, and of his kingdom lose no part

By our revolt, but over Hell extend

His empire, and with iron sceptre rule

Us here, as with his golden those in Heaven,

What sit we then projecting peace and war?

War hath determined us and foiled with loss

Irreparable; terms of peace yet none

Voutsafed or sought; for what peace will be given

To us enslaved, but custody severe,

And stripes and arbitrary punishment

Inflicted? and what peace can we return,

But, to out power, hostility and hate,

Untamed reluctance, and revenge, though slow,

Yet ever plotting how the Conqueror least

May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice

In doing what we most in suffering feel?

Nor will occasion want, nor shall we need

With dangerous expedition to invade

Heaven, whose high walls fear no assault or siege,

Or ambush from the Deep. What if we find

Some easier enterprise? There is a place

(If ancient and prophetic fame in Heaven

Err not)—another World, the happy seat

Of some new rave, called Man, about this time

To be created like to us, though less

In power and excellence, but favoured more

Of Him who rules above; so was His will

Pronounced among the gods, and by an oath

That shook Heaven’s whole circumference confirmed.

Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn

What creatures there inhabit, of what mould

Or substance, how endued, and what their power

And where their weakness; how attempted best,

By force or subtlety. Though Heaven be shut,

And Heaven’s high Arbitrator sit secure

In his own strength, this place may lie exposed,

The utmost border of his kingdom, left

To their defence who hold it: here, perhaps,

Some advantageous act may be achieved

By sudden onset—either with Hell-fire

To waste his whole creation, or possess

All as our own, and drive, as we are driven,

The puny habitants; or, if not drive,

Seduce them to our party, that their God

May prove their foe, and with repenting hand

Abolish his own works. This would surpass

Common revenge, and interrupt His joy

In our confusion, and our joy upraise

In His disturbance; when his darling sons,

Hurled headlong to partake with us, shall curse

Their frail original, and faded bliss—

Faded so soon! Advise if this be worth

Attempting, or to sit in darkness here

Hatching vain empires.” Thus Beëlzebub,

Pleaded his devilish counsel—first devised

By Satan, and in part proposed: for whence,

But from the author of all ill, could spring

So deep a malice, to confound the race

Of mankind in one root, and Earth with Hell

To mingle and involve, done all to spite

The great Creator? But their spite still serves

His glory to augment. The bold design

Pleased highly those Infernal States, and joy

Sparkled in all their eyes: with full assent

They vote: whereat his speech he thus renews:—

“Well have ye judged, well ended long debate,

Synod of Gods and, like to what ye are,

Great things resolved, which from the lowest deep

Will once more lift us up, in spite of Fate,

Nearer our ancient Seat—perhaps in view

Of those bright confines, whence, with neighbouring arms,

And opportune excursion, we may chance

Re-enter Heaven; or else in some mild zone

Dwell, not unvisited of Heaven’s fair light,

Secure, and at the brightening orient beam

Purge off this gloom: the soft delicious air,

To heal the scar of these corrosive fires,

Shall breathe her balm. But, first, whom shall we send

In search of this new World? whom shall we find

Sufficient? who shall tempt with wandering feet

The dark, unbottomed, infinite Abyss,

And through the palpable obscure find out

His uncouth way, or spread his aerie flight,

Upborne with indefatigable wings

Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive

The happy Isle? What strength, what art, can then

Suffice, or what evasion bear him safe

Through the strict senteries and stations thick

Of Angels watching round? Here he had need

All circumspection: and we now no less

Choice in our suffrage; for on whom we send

The weight of all, and our last hope, relies.”

This said, he sat; and expectation held

His look suspense, awaiting who appeared

To second, or oppose, or undertake

The perilous attempt. But all sat mute,

Pondering the danger with deep thoughts; and each

In other’s countenance read his own dismay,

Astonished. None among the choice and prime

Of those Heaven-warring champions could be found

So hardy as to proffer or accept,

Alone, the dreadful voyage; till, at last,

Satan, whom now transcendent glory raised

Above his fellows, with monarchal pride

Conscious of highest worth, unmoved thus spake:—

“O Progeny of Heaven! Empyreal Thrones!

With reason hath deep silence and demur

Seized us, though undismayed. Long is the way

And hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.

Our prison strong, this huge convex of fire,

Outrageous to devour, immures us round

Ninefold; and gates of burning adamant,

Barred over us, prohibit all egress.

These passed, if any pass, the void profound

Of unessential Night receives him next,

Wide-gaping, and with utter loss of being

Threatens him, plunged in that abortive gulf.

If thence he scape, into whatever world,

Or unknown region, what remains him less

Than unknown dangers, and as hard escape?

But I should ill become this throne, O Peers,

And this imperial sovranty, adorned

With splendour, armed with power, if aught proposed

And judged of public moment in the shape

Of difficulty or danger, could deter

Me from attempting. Wherefore do I assume

These royalties, and not refuse to reign,

Refusing to accept as great a share

Of hazard as of honour, due alike

To him who reigns, and so much to him due

Of hazard more as he above the rest

High honoured sits? Go, therefore, mighty Powers,

Terror of Heaven, though fallen; intend at home,

While here shall be our home, what best may ease

The present misery, and render Hell

More tolerable; if there be cure or charm

To respite, or deceive, or slack the pain

Of this ill mansion: intermit no watch

Against a wakeful Foe, while I abroad

Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek

Deliverance for us all. This enterprise

None shall partake with me.” Thus saying, rose

The Monarch, and prevented all reply;

Prudent lest, from his resolution raised,

Others among the chief might offer now,

Certain to be refused, what erst they feared,

And, so refused, might in opinion stand

His rivals, winning cheap the high repute

Which he through hazard huge must earn. But they

Dreaded not more the adventure than his voice

Forbidding; and at once with him they rose.

Their rising all at once was as the sound

Of thunder heard remote. Towards him they bend

With awful reverence prone, and as a God

Extol him equal to the Highest in Heaven.

Nor failed they to express how much they praised

That for the general safety he despised

His own: for neither do the Spirits damned

Lose all their virtue; lest bad men should boast

Their specious deeds on earth, which glory excites,

Or close ambition varnished o’er with zeal.

Thus they their doubtful consultations dark

Ended, rejoicing in their matchless Chief:

As, when from mountain-tops the dusky clouds

Ascending, while the North-wind sleeps, o’erspread

Heaven’s cheerful face, the louring element

Scowls o’er the darkened lantskip snow or shower,

If chance the radiant sun, with farewell sweet,

Extend his evening beam, the fields revive,

The birds their notes renew, and bleating herds

Attest their joy, that hill and valley rings.

O shame to men! Devil with devil damned

Firm concord holds; men only disagree

Of creatures rational, though under hope

Of heavenly grace, and, God proclaiming peace,

Yet live in hatred, enmity, and strife

Among themselves, and levy cruel wars

Wasting the earth, each other to destroy:

As if (which might induce us to accord)

Man had not hellish foes enow besides,

That day and night for his destruction wait!

The Stygian council thus dissolved; and forth

In order came the grand Infernal Peers:

Midst came their mighty Paramount, and seemed

Alone the Antagonist of Heaven, nor less

Than Hell’s dread Emperor, with pomp supreme,

And god-like imitated state: him round

A globe of fiery Seraphim inclosed

With bright imblazonry, and horrent arms.

Then of their session ended they bid cry

With trumpet’s regal sound the great result:

Toward the four winds four speedy Cherubim

Put to their mouths the sounding alchemy,

By harald’s voice explained; the hollow Abyss

Heard far and wide, and all the host of Hell

With deafening shout returned them loud acclaim.

Thence more at ease their minds, and somewhat raised

By false presumptuous hope, the rangèd Powers

Disband; and, wandering, each his several way

Pursues, as inclination or sad choice,

Leads him perplexed, where he may likeliest find

Truce to his restless thoughts, and entertain

The irksome hours, till his great Chief return.

Part on the plain, or in the air sublime,

Upon the wing or in swift race contend,

As at the Olympian games or Pythian fields;

Part curb their fiery steeds, or shun the goal

With rapid wheels, or fronted brigades form:

As when, to warn proud cities, war appears

Waged in the troubled sky, and armies rush

To battle in the clouds; before each van

Prick forth the aerie knights, and couch their spears,

Till thickest legions close; with feats of arms

From either end of heaven the welkin burns.

Others, with vast Typhœan rage, more fell,

Rend up both rocks and hills, and ride the air

In whirlwind; Hell scarce holds the wild uproar:—

As when Alcides, from Œchalia crowned

With conquest, felt the envenomed robe, and tore

Through pain up by the roots Thessalian pines,

And Lichas from the top of Œta threw

Into the Euboic sea. Others, more mild,

Retreated in a silent valley, sing

With notes angelical to many a harp

Their own heroic deeds, and hapless fall

By doom of battle, and complain that Fate

Free Virtue should enthrall to Force or Chance.

Their song was partial; but the harmony

(What could it less when Spirits immortal sing?)

Suspended Hell, and took with ravishment

The thronging audience. In discourse more sweet

(For Eloquence the Soul, Song charms the Sense)

Others apart sat on a hill retired,

In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high

Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate—

Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute—

And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.

Of good and evil much they argued then,

Of happiness and final misery,

Passion and apathy, and glory and shame:

Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!—

Yet, with a pleasing sorcery, could charm

Pain for a while or anguish, and excite

Fallacious hope, or arm the obdured breast

With stubborn patience as with triple steel.

Another part, in squadrons and gross bands,

On bold adventure to discover wide

That dismal world, if any clime perhaps

Might yield them easier habitation, bend

Four ways their flying march, along the banks

Of four infernal rivers, that disgorge

Into the burning lake their baleful streams—

Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate;

Sad Acheron of sorrow, black and deep;

Cocytus, named of lamentation loud

Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegeton,

Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.

Far off from these, a slow and silent stream,

Lethe, the river of oblivion, rowls

Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks

Forthwith his former state and being forgets—

Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain.

Beyond this flood a frozen continent

Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storms

Of whirlwind and dire hail, which on firm land

Thaws not, but gathers heap, and ruin seems

Of ancient pile; all else deep snow and ice,

A gulf profound as that Serbonian bog

Betwixt Damiata and Mount Casius old,

Where armies whole have sunk: the parching air

Burns frore, and cold performs the effect of fire.

Thither, by harpy-footed Furies haled,

At certain revolutions all the damned

Are brought; and feel by turns the bitter change

Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,

From beds of raging fire to starve in ice

Their soft ethereal warmth, and there to pine

Immovable, infixed, and frozen round

Periods of time,—thence hurried back to fire.

They ferry over this Lethean sound

Both to and fro, their sorrow to augment,

And wish and struggle, as they pass, to reach

The tempting stream, with one small drop to lose

In sweet forgetfulness all pain and woe,

All in one moment, and so near the brink;

But Fate withstands, and, to oppose the attempt,

Medusa with Gorgonian terror guards

The ford, and of itself the water flies

All taste of living wight, as once it fled

The lip of Tantalus. Thus roving on

In confused march forlorn, the adventrous bands,

With shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast,

Viewed first their lamentable lot, and found

No rest. Through many a dark and dreary vale

They passed, and many a region dolorous,

O’er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp,

Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death—

A universe of death, which God by curse

Created evil, for evil only good;

Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds,

Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,

Abominable, inutterable, and worse

Than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived,

Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimæras dire.

Meanwhile the Adversary of God and Man,

Satan, with thoughts inflamed of highest design,

Puts on swift wings, and toward the gates of Hell

Explores his solitary flight: sometimes

He scours the right hand coast, sometimes the left;

Now shaves with level wing the Deep, then soars

Up to the fiery concave towering high.

As when far off at sea a fleet descried

Hangs in the clouds, by æquinoctial winds

Close sailing from Bengala, or the isles

Of Ternate and Tidore, whence merchants bring

Their spicy drugs; they on the trading flood,

Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape,

Ply stemming nightly toward the pole: so seemed

Far off the flying Fiend. At last appear

Hell-hounds, high reaching to the horrid roof,

And thrice threefold the gates; three folds were brass,

Three iron, three of adamantine rock,

Impenetrable, impaled with circling fire,

Yet unconsumed. Before the gates there sat

On either side a formidable Shape.

The one seemed a woman to the waist, and fair,

But ended foul in many a scaly fold,

Voluminous and vast—a serpent armed

With mortal sting. About her middle round

A cry of Hell-hounds never-ceasing barked

With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung

A hideous peal; yet, when they list, would creep,

If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,

And kennel there; yet there still barked and howled

With in unseen. Far less abhorred than these

Vexed Scylla, bathing in the sea that parts

Calabria from the hoarse Trinacrian shore;

Nor uglier follow the night-hag, when, called

In secret, riding through the air she comes,

Lured with the smell of infant blood, to dance

With Lapland witches, while the labouring moon

Eclipses at their charms. The other Shape—

If shape it might be called that shape had none

Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb;

Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,

For each seemed either—black it stood as Night,

Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,

And shook a dreadful dart: what seemed his head

The likeness of a kingly crown had on.

Satan was now at hand, and from his seat

The monster moving onward came as fast

With horrid strides; Hell trembled as he strode.

The undaunted Fiend what this might be admired—

Admired, not feared (God and his Son except,

Created thing naught valued he nor shunned),

And with disdainful look thus first began:—

“Whence and what art thou, execrable Shape,

That dar’st though grim and terrible, advance

Thy miscreated front athwart my way

To yonder gates? Through them I mean to pass,

That be assured, without leave asked of thee.

Retire; or taste thy folly, and learn by proof,

Hell-born, not to contend with Spirits of Heaven.”

To whom the Goblin, full of wrauth, replied:—

“Art thou that Traitor-Angel, art thou he,

Who first broke peace in Heaven and faith, till then

Unbroken, and in proud rebellious arms

Drew after him the third part of Heaven’s sons,

Conjured against the Highest—for which both thou

And they, outcast from God, are here condemned

To waste eternal days in woe and pain?

And reckon’st thou thyself with Spirits of Heaven,

Hell-doomed, and breath’st defiance here and scorn,

Where I reign king, and, to enrage thee more,

Thy king and lord? Back to thy punishment,

False fugitive; and to thy speed add wings,

Lest with a whip of scorpions I pursue

Thy lingering, or with one stroke of this dart

Strange horror seize thee, and pangs unfelt before.”

So spake the griesly Terror, and in shape,

So speaking and so threatening, grew tenfold

More dreadful and deform. On the other side,

Incensed with indignation, Satan stood

Unterrified, and like a comet burned,

That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge

In the artick sky, and from his horrid hair

Shakes pestilence and war. Each at the head

Levelled his deadly aim; their fatal hands

No second stroke intend; and such a frown

Each cast at the other as when two black clouds,

With Heaven’s artillery fraught, come rattling on

Over the Caspian,—then stand front to front

Hovering a space, till winds the signal blow

To join their dark encounter in mid-air.

So frowned the mighty combatants that Hell

Grew darker at their frown; so matched they stood;

For never but once more was either like

To meet so great a foe. And now great deeds

Had been achieved, whereof all Hell had rung,

Had not the snaky Sorceress, that sat

Fast by Hell-gate and kept the fatal key,

Risen, and with hideous outcry rushed between.

“O father, what intends thy hand,” she cried,

“Against thy only son? What fury, O son,

Possesses thee to bend that mortal dart

Against thy father’s head? And know’st for whom?

For Him who sits above, and laughs the while

At thee, ordained his drudge to execute

Whate’er his wrauth, which He calls justice, bids—

His wrauth, which one day will destroy ye both!”

She spake, and at her words the hellish Pest

Forbore: then these to her Satan returned:—

“So strange thy outcry, and thy words so strange

Thou interposest, that my sudden hand,

Prevented, spares to tell thee yet by deeds

What it intends, till first I know of thee

What thing thou art, thus double-formed, and why

In this infernal vale first met, thou call’st

Me father, and that fantasm call’st my son.

I know thee not, nor ever saw till now

Sight more detestable than him and thee.”

To whom thus the Portress of Hell-gate replied:—

“Hast thou forgot me, then; and do I seem

Now in thine eyes so foul?—once deemed so fair

In Heaven, when at the assembly, and in sight

Of all the Seraphim with thee combined

In bold conspiracy against Heaven’s King,

All on a sudden miserable pain

Surprised thee, dim thine eyes, and dizzy swum

In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast

Threw forth, till on the left side opening wide,

Likest to thee in shape and countenance bright,

Then shining heavenly fair, a goddess armed,

Out of thy head I sprung. Amazement seized

All the host of Heaven; back they recoiled afraid

At first, and called me Sin, and for a sign

Portentous held me; but, familiar grown,

I pleased, and with attractive graces won

The most averse—thee chiefly, who, full oft

Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing,

Becam’st enamoured; and such joy thou took’st

With me in secret that my womb conceived

A growing burden. Meanwhile war arose,

And fields were fought in Heaven: wherein remained

(For what could else?) to our Almighty Foe

Clear victory; to our part loss and rout

Through all the Empyrean. Down they fell,

Driven headlong from the pitch of Heaven, down

Into this Deep; and in the general fall

I also: at which time this powerful Key

Into my hands was given, with charge to keep

These gates for ever shut, which none can pass

Without my opening. Pensive here I sat

Alone; but long I sat not, till my womb,

Pregnant by thee, and now excessive grown,

Prodigious motion felt and rueful throes.

At last this odious offspring whom thou seest,

Thine own begotten, breaking violent way,

Tore through my entrails, that, with fear and pain

Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew

Transformed: but he my inbred enemy

Forth issued, brandishing his fatal dart,

Made to destroy. I fled, and cried out Death!

Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sighed

From all her caves, and back resounded Death!

I fled; but he pursued (though more, it seems,

Inflamed with lust than rage), and, swifter far,

Me overtook, his mother, all dismayed,

And, in embraces forcible and foul

Engendering with me, of that rape begot

These yelling monsters, that with ceaseless cry

Surround me, as thou saw’st—hourly conceived

And hourly born, with sorrow infinite

To me: for, when they list, into the womb

That bred them they return, and howl, and gnaw

My bowels, their repast; then, bursting forth

Afresh, with conscious terrors vex me round,

That rest or intermission none I find.

Before mine eyes in opposition sits

Grim Death, my son and foe, who sets them on,

And me, his parent, would full soon devour

For want of other prey, but that he knows

His end with mine involved, and knows that I

Should prove a bitter morsel, and his bane,

Whenever that shall be: so Fate pronounced.

But thou, O Father, I forewarn thee, shun

His deadly arrow: neither vainly hope

To be invulnerable in those bright arms,

Though tempered heavenly; for that mortal dint,

Save He who reigns above, none can resist.”

She finished; and the subtle Fiend his lore

Soon learned, now milder, and thus answered smooth:—

“Dear daughter—since thou claim’st me for thy sire,

And my fair son here show’st me, the dear pledge

Of dalliance had with thee in Heaven, and joys

Then sweet, now sad to mention, through dire change

Befallen us unforeseen, unthought-of—know,

I come no enemy, but to set free

From out this dark and dismal house of pain

Both him and thee, and all the Heavenly host

Of Spirits that, in our just pretences armed,

Fell with us from on high. From them I go

This uncouth errand sole, and one for all

Myself expose, with lonely steps to tread

The unfounded Deep, and through the void immense

To search, with wandering quest, a place foretold

Should be—and, by concurring signs, ere now

Created vast and round—a place of bliss

In the pourlieues of Heaven; and therein placed

A race of upstart creatures, to supply

Perhaps our vacant room, though more removed,

Lest Heaven, surcharged with potent multitude,

Might hap to move new broils. Be this, or aught

Than this more secret, now designed, I haste

To know; and this once known, shall soon return

And bring ye to the place where thou and Death

Shall dwell at ease, and up and down unseen

Wing silently the buxom air, imbalmed

With odours. There ye shall be fed and filled

Immeasurably; all things shall be your prey.”

He ceased; for both seemed highly pleased, and Death

Grinned horrible a ghastly smile, to hear

His famine should be filled, and blessed his maw

Destined to that good hour. No less rejoiced

His mother bad, and thus bespake her Sire:—

“The key of this infernal Pit, by due

And by command of Heaven’s all-powerful King,

I keep, by Him forbidden to unlock

These adamantine gates; against all force

Death ready stands to interpose his dart,

Fearless to be o’ermatched by living might.

But what I owe I to His commands above,

Who hates me, and hath hither thrust me down

Into this gloom of Tartarus profound,

To sit in hateful office here confined,

Inhabitant of Heaven and heavenly-born—

Here in perpetual agony and pain,

With terrors and with clamours compassed round

Of mine own brood, that on my bowels feed?

Thou art my father, thou my author, thou

My being gav’st me; whom should I obey

But thee? whom follow? Thou wilt bring me soon

To that new world of light and bliss, among

The gods who live at ease, where I shall reign

At thy right hand voluptuous, as beseems

Thy daughter and thy darling, without end.”

Thus saying, from her side the fatal key,

Sad instrument of all our woe, she took;

And, toward the gate rowling her bestial train,

Forthwith the huge portcullis high up-drew,

Which, but herself, not all the Stygian Powers

Could once have moved; then in the keyhole turns

The intricate wards, and every bolt and bar

Of massy iron or solid rock with ease

Unfastens. On a sudden open fly,

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,

The infernal doors, and on their hinges grate

Harsh thunder, that the lowest bottom shook

Of Erebus. She opened; but to shut

Excelled her power: the gates wide open stood,

That with extended wings a bannered host,

Under spread ensigns marching, might pass through

With horse and chariots ranked in loose array;

So wide they stood, and like a furnace-mouth

Cast forth redounding smoke and ruddy flame.

Before their eyes in sudden view appear

The secrets of the hoary Deep—a dark

Illimitable ocean, without bound,

Without dimension: where length, breadth, and highth,

And time, and place, are lost; where eldest Night

And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold

Eternal anarchy, amidst the noise

Of endless wars, and by confusion stand.

For Hot, Cold, Moist, and Dry, four champions fierce,

Strive here for maistrie, and to battle bring

Their embryon atoms: they around the flag

Of each his faction, in their several clans,

Light-armed or heavy, sharp, smooth, swift, or slow,

Swarm populous, unnumbered as the sands

Of Barca or Cyrene’s torrid soil,

Levied to side with warring winds, and poise

Their lighter wings. To whom these most adhere

He rules a moment: Chaos umpire sits,

And by decision more imbroils the fray

By which he reigns: next him, high arbiter,

Chance governs all. Into this wild Abyss,

The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,

Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,

But all these in their pregnant causes mixed

Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,

Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain

His dark materials to create more worlds—

Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend

Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,

Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith

He had to cross. Nor was his ear less pealed

With noises loud and ruinous (to compare

Great things with small) than when Bellona storms

With all her battering engines, bent to rase

Some capital city; or less than if this frame

Of heaven were falling, and these elements

In mutiny had from her axle torn

The steadfast Earth. At last his sail-broad vans

He spreads for flight, and, in the surging smoke

Uplifted, spurns the ground; thence many a league,

As in a cloudy chair, ascending rides

Audacious; but, that seat soon failing, meets

A vast vacuity. All unawares,

Fluttering his pennons vain, plumb-down he drops

Ten thousand fadom deep, and to this hour

Down had been falling, had not, by ill chance,

The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud,

Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him

As many miles aloft. That fury stayed—

Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea,

Nor good dry land-nigh foundered, on he fares,

Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,

Half flying; behoves him now both oar and sail.

As when a gryfon through the wilderness

With wingèd course, o’er hill or moory dale,

Pursues the Arimpasian, who by stealth

Had from his wakeful custody purloined

The guarded gold; so eagerly the Fiend

O’er bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare,

With head, hands, wings, or feet, pursues his way,

And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.

At length, a universal hubbub wild

Of stunning sounds, and voices all confused,

Borne through the hollow dark, assaults his ear

With loudest vehemence. Thither he plies

Undaunted, to meet there whatever Power

Or Spirit of the nethermost Abyss

Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask

Which way the nearest coast of darkness lies

Bordering on light; when straight behold the throne

Of Chaos, and his dark pavilion spread

Wide on the wasteful Deep! With him enthroned

Sat sable-vested Night, eldest of things,

The consort of his reign; and by them stood

Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name

Of Demogorgon; Rumour next, and Chance,

And Tumult, and Confusion, all embroiled,

And Discord with a thousand various mouths.

To whom Satan, turning boldly, thus:—“Ye Powers

And Spirits of this nethermost Abyss,

Chaos and ancient Night, I come no spy

With purpose to explore or to disturb

The secrets of your realm; but, by constraint

Wandering this darksome desert, as my way

Lies through your spacious empire up to light,

Alone and without guide, half lost, I seek,

What readiest path leads where your gloomy bounds

Confine with Heaven; or, if some other place,

From your dominion won, the Ethereal King

Possesses lately, thither to arrive

I travel this profound. Direct my course;

Directed, no mean recompense it brings

To your behoof, if I that region lost.

All usurpation thence expelled, reduce

To her original darkness and your sway

(Which is my present journey), and once more

Erect the standard there of ancient Night.

Yours be the advantage all, mine the revenge!”

Thus Satan; and him thus the Anarch old,

With faltering speech and visage incomposed,

Answered:—“I know thee, stranger, who thou art—

That mighty leading Angel, who of late

Made head against Heaven’s King, though overthrown.

I saw and heard; for such a numerous host

Fled not in silence through the frighted Deep,

With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout,

Confusion worse confounded; and Heaven-gates

Poured out by millions her victorious bands,

Pursuing. I upon my frontiers here

Keep residence; if all I can will serve

That little which is left so to defend,

Encroached on still through our intestine broils

Weakening the sceptre of old Night: first, Hell,

Your dungeon, stretching far and wide beneath;

Now lately Heaven and Earth, another world

Hung o’er my realm, linked in a golden chain

To that side Heaven from whence your legions fell!

If that way be your walk, you have not far;

So much the nearer danger. Go, and speed;

Havoc, and spoil, and ruin, are my gain.”

He ceased; and Satan staid not to reply,

But, glad that now his sea should find a shore,

With fresh alacrity and force renewed

Springs upward, like a pyramid of fire,

Into the wild expanse, and through the shock

Of fighting elements, on all sides round

Environed, wins his way; harder beset

And more endangered than when Argo passed

Through Bosporus betwixt the justling rocks,

Or when Ulysses on the larboard shunned

Charybdis, and by the other Whirlpool steered.

So he with difficulty and labour hard

Moved on. With difficulty and labour he;

But, he once passed, soon after, when Man fell,

Strange alteration! Sin and Death amain,

Following his track (such was the will of Heaven)

Paved after him a broad and beaten way

Over the dark Abyss, whose boiling gulf

Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length,

From Hell continued, reaching the utmost Orb

Of this frail World; by which the Spirits perverse

With easy intercourse pass to and fro

To tempt or punish mortals, except whom

God and good Angels guard by special grace.

But now at last the sacred influence

Of light appears, and from the walls of Heaven

Shoots far into the bosom of dim Night

A glimmering dawn. Here Nature first begins

Her fardest verge, and Chaos to retire,

As from her utmost works, a broken foe,

With tumult less and with less hostile din;

That Satan with less toil, and now with ease,

Wafts on the calmer wave by dubious light,

And, like a weather-beaten vessel, holds

Gladly the port, though shrouds and tackle torn;

Or in the emptier waste, resembling air,

Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold

Far off the imperial Heaven, extended wide

In circuit, undetermined square or round,

With opal towers and battlements adorned

Of living sapphire, once his native seat,

And, fast by, hanging in a golden chain,

This pendent World, in bigness as a star

Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.

Thither, full fraught with mischievous revenge,

Accurst, and in a cursed hour, he hies.