Saturday, October 24

Comparative Piece on Milton, Blake and Genesis

Within the narrative found in Genesis is a section sometimes referred to as the "Fall of Man," wherein the "original sin" (as St. Augustine of Hippo termed it) transpired. This account has been interpreted and retold by many, many different individuals, including authors John Milton and William Blake. Milton and Blake have both helped to shaped popular belief concerning the text, and expounded upon and re-interpreted the Fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. These differing interpretations are entertaining and allow the reader to examine other views of these events found in the Bible. In what ways did they utilize the Genesis narrative? In what ways did they change or add to it?

Milton was an author and poet who lived in the 17th century - raised in the Church of England, although some of his theological views on the Trinity bordered on Arianism, and he later grew fond of the Quaker tradition. In 1667, Milton wrote the infamous poem, Paradise Lost. The poem is twelve books on the subject of man's original sin and after-effects of the Fall of Satan. Milton portrays Lucifer (Satan) in a bit of a sympathetic way, while portraying God as a sort of tyrant. In this way, Milton forms an image to which his audience may sympathize. Lucifer disobeyed, and was cast out. William Blake, another poet, paid tribute to Milton's Paradise Lost with an account of the Fall of Lucifer in the first part of his poem, "Milton". However, ironically, Blake's portrayal of Lucifer differed from Milton's. Blake pointed out that Milton's interpretation, and the way he seems to create sympathy for him, shows that "Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it."

Put simply, it is easier to determine the differences in interpretations and basis once groundwork can be laid from the original source. The Fall of Man narrative is found in Genesis 3, and it is traditionally taught that the Fall of Lucifer is found in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 - though scholarly dispute remains. Isaiah 14:12-15 says, "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit." (KJV) If this text refers to Satan, it can be gleaned that he fell from the same Heaven where he believed he could overthrow God and rule the universe himself, but he was cast out of Heaven instead, for his rebellion.

Now, the text of Ezekiel 28:11-17 conveys, "Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee." (TNIV)

If Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan, we can understand that he was once a "guardian cherub" - an angel with authority, with a position, with a rank. Within the Christian tradition, Lucifer was second in power only to God. He was once pure until, with free will given to him, he became proud, gathered many angels, rebelled against God, and was cast out of Heaven. He was henceforth called Satan (meaning "adversary") - so goes the tradition. It is from these two passages that Milton and Blake appear to derive their information, although Blake also drew from Milton.

Finally, Genesis 3 (from the King James Version) reads, "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?' The woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' 'You will not certainly die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”

Verses 10-15 continue, "He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.' And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?' The man said, 'The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.' Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.' So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Verses 16-24 conclude, "To the woman He said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (NIV)

Bearing in mind the Genesis narrative as well as the texts from Isaiah and Ezekiel, Milton begins his poem by starting off directly after the events of Satan's rebellion, and the angels have been cast out into Hell. After devising a plan to “get back” at Heaven, Satan leaves to journey to the edge of the Universe to his final destination: the newly crafted Earth. Satan enters the Garden of Eden but is cast out by angels guarding Adam and Eve, so in the night Satan enters into the body of a sleeping serpent. He tempts Eve, who disobeys God, eating of the fruit, and in turn, Adam also eats, fearing that she would die and he would be left alone. Adam and Eve are overcome by lust and engage in intercourse. Afterwards they are repentant, and Michael the archangel proceeds to show Adam the future: Noah and the Flood, Moses, finally revealing God’s plan of salvation through the Son of God. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, but not without knowledge of God’s plan of saving all of mankind. Satan has fulfilled his original purpose, and returns to his former state. From early in the Christian tradition, Genesis 3:15 -  “… I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” - most believed that the “he” who is referenced is Jesus, and the serpent was Satan (identified with the serpent in the Apocalypse of John 12). Milton may have used this as a partial influence to the vision shown to Adam.

Blake's portrayal of Satan and the Fall of Man certainly pays tribute to Milton's "Paradise Lost," but in some aspects is radically different. Blake wrote a poem, "Milton", which is a re-imagining of Milton’s work. For example, the Fall of Lucifer and the Fall of Man are portrayed in a different way. Essentially, Blake changes most of these events to fit his poetic narrative. Another of Blake’s works, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” is a poem in which he postulates that the material world and physical desires are part of the divine order, thus, the marriage of heaven and hell. In Blake's The Voice of The Devil (Plate 4), Satan says, "All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following Errors. 1. That Man has two real existing principles Vis: a Body & a Soul. 2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul. 3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies. But the following Contraries to these are True. 1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age. 2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy. 3. Energy is Eternal Delight."

Blake notes in Plate 6 of the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell", "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it." Blake's perceptive criticism of Paradise Lost clearly illustrates his continuing passion which resulted in his poem, "Milton", one of the most difficult poems of the time, as well as several illustrations of certain occurrences in Paradise Lost. Milton arguably influenced and inspired Blake more than any other author. It is because of this that, though Blake was a prolific writer and inspired poet, he did not derive his material regarding the Fall of Satan from the Genesis narrative directly, but from Milton, who had already made changes to the account.

Blake, in the First Book of Urzien and The Book of Los, describes how the "eternal prophet" Los (who represents creativity) binds Urzien. Urzien is the deity of law and reason. In these works we also find Los' female companion (Enitharmon) and the birth of her children. Unlike Genesis and Paradise Lost, Blake identifies Satan (Lucifer) as Enitharmon's last child. Pre-fall, Satan is called the "Prince of the Starry Wheels." At first, Blake's Satan lacks the pride that caused him to fall, yet he does refuse to "form," instead trying to remain a part of the infinite rather than be a part of the material realm. The Book of Los describes Los' fall, originally having been in a divine state and was identified as Urthona. Milton makes reference to this, but does not expound. Satan's refusal is in vain, as he was created as a material being. Satan is under the impression that there is nothing beyond the material world and the physical senses. Paul Brown conveys, "Los refuses to allow Satan to reply, and denies him eternal life because his 'Work is Eternal Death.' This separation of Satan from the infinite recalls the way Urizen became isolated from eternity in The First Book of Urizen, and Blake draws a closer association between the two figures later in Milton” (Brown).

Los' son, Palamabron, "returnd with labour wearied every evening," and Satan, feeling pity for him, sought to perform his work for him. Los granted Satan one day to take up this work, but Palamabron does not trust him. Satan conveys a false version of events to Los, blaming Palamabron for the issues throughout the day. Los accepts the blame, and Satan kills Thulloh, one of Enitharmon’s children. An assembly is called, and it is determined that Satan is to be judged. Lethua, a female, declares to the assembly that it was her jealousy of Elynittria (Palamabron's lover) that led to her entering Satan's mind and deluding it. Judgment falls upon Rintrah, who inspired Satan’s rage and is now merged with Satan. Satan proclaims himself to be God, creates the seven deadly sins, and begins his goal to “pervert the Divine voice in its entrance to the earth.” Thus falls Satan. Blake presents his view that religion has misinterpreted the voice of God, and that it is actually Satan.

Milton and Blake have many similarities within their views of Satan and the Fall. Both poets cast Satan as the central figure. Blake and Milton refer to God (in Blake’s case, Los) and the Son of God (in Blake’s case, Palamabron). It is evident from a clear reading from each of the texts that Milton drew heavily from sources such as Genesis 3, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, while Blake certainly drew from these sources – but more so from Milton. There are also several differences between Milton and Blake's interpretation. Milton, as aforementioned, drew heavily from the Scriptural corpus, whereas Blake - not as much. In fact, of note, Blake’s version of the Fall of Lucifer contains no Garden of Eden, no Adam and Eve, nor the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. It excluded several major biblical doctrines that involved both the Fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. Milton did not illustrate Satan as having been influenced by a woman nor did he seek to take on the work of the Son of God.

In comparison between Milton, Blake, and the Bible, there are several points to be made. One such similarity is Milton’s usage of the Fall of Lucifer, Satan entering Eden and tempting Eve who in turn tempted Adam, which led to the Fall of Man. Blake includes a god and the son of god, but not necessarily Jesus. Both Milton and Blake place Satan as one of the head creations, with Satan seeking higher power than he has. This desire ultimately leads to his downfall. However, there are various differences between the Biblical texts and the views of Blake and Milton. For example, Milton includes angels in the Garden of Eden. Raphael warns Adam and Eve of Satan, yet in Genesis, there is no such warning. The only canonical book that Raphael appears in is Tobit. Also, in Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve after succumbing to sin are overcome by lust and engage in sexual intercourse, the event of which is not found in Genesis.  Further, as aforementioned, Milton shows Adam an overview of the future, part of this involving the Flood and the redemption of Man via the death and resurrection of the Son of God. In the Genesis narrative, Michael did not show Adam the future.

Blake differs highly from the biblical texts. As noted, Blake excludes the Fall of Man, particularly Adam and Eve. Without the inclusion of the Fall of Man, Blake avoids the corruption and sin of mankind altogether. He also portrays Satan as having fallen not due to pride, but due to pity. In Blake’s version, Satan pities Palamabron, which ultimately leads to his downfall. Both Blake and Milton portray Satan in such a way that while in Heaven, he does not realize his deceptiveness. This is contrary to the biblical texts, as Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 clearly indicate that Satan was well-aware of his deceptive nature. On another note, Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, also derived much of his material from Milton's Paradise Lost. In his trilogy, the girl Lystra represents Eve, Will represents Adam, and Mary Malone represents the serpent. According to Jane Craske, in her work In Conversation with… Philip Pullman, “Many reviewers have noted that one of the things Pullman does is rewrite Milton’s Paradise Lost. In doing that, he [re-imagines]… the early chapters of Genesis, particularly the story of ‘The Fall’” (69).

Christians of various denominations have been up in arms about Pullman's trilogy since its inception, but regardless, it continues to have a large impact upon society, much like Milton and Blake's interpretation of "The Fall." Milton derived his interpretation from the Bible, and both Blake and Pullman derived their material from Milton. Notably, the title of Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, is actually a phrase found in Paradise Lost, referring to God’s creation. Needless to say, there are a myriad of interpretations of the Genesis narrative. In summation, we have determined that there are a number of similarities - as well as differences - between the interpretations of Blake and Milton found in their poetic works. Regardless of how radically different interpretations may deviate from the original, the works of both Milton and Blake will continue to fascinate and entertain for generations to come.

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