The return of the beginning: the repetition of the creation motif in Paradise Lost and the Bible

Schwartz, Regina Mara, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kinney, James, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

Despite his assertions in prose that the "first matter" is neutral, Milton depicts a hostile chaos in Paradise Lost. Chaos is an "abortive gulf," "dark, wasteful, wild," and like Satan, it is mutinous, a realm of "Eternal Anarchy, amidst the noise of endless wars" where the Elements strive for maistry." The closest analogue to Milton's chaos is neither Biblical nor classical, but Milton's own war in Heaven, for the abyss is churned by winds and waves "as Mountains to assault Heaven's heighth." Threatening to storm heaven itself, Satanic in its insurgence, Chaos--even more than Hell--is that psychic space where Satan finds his true home.

With chaos so conceived, creation becomes a victory over the forces of rebellion. At creation, chaos is made obedient and darkness commanded to flee like a routed enemy. The Satanic efforts to turn good into evil are most elegantly frustrated by the creation itself, where God brings good out of evil. The burden of theodicy need not rest on the last books of Paradise Lost, on the final redemption alone; God's ways are justified with the simple words of Genesis: ". . . and it was good."

Similarly, to remember and to rehearse this saving Creation is to keep the repeated enchroachments of chaos at bay. Eve's temptation nightmare gives way to the aubade, the hymn to creation, and the Deuteronomic injunction to remember the saving acts of God assumes literary form in the birth narratives of Adam and Eve. Finally the birth-day of the world becomes the great centerpiece of the epic, with each act of creation ritually commemorated by the angelic choir even as it is performed. This ritual repetition contrasts with the pathological repetition informing Satan's acts. His willful forgetting of his Maker and his Making condemn him to reenact his fall compulsively. Denying the past denies him a future. Raphael concludes his narration of the drama of creation with the warning, "Remember and fear to transgress." In his epic, Milton counters the Satanic trap of forgetting with the ritual commemoration of the creation that pervades Paradise Lost.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Milton, John -- 1608-1674 -- Paradise lost, Bible -- In literature, Creation in literature
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: