Book 1

I, WHO erewhile the happy Garden sung By one man's disobedience lost, now sing Recovered Paradise to all mankind, By one man's firm obedience fully tried Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed, And Eden raised in the waste Wilderness. Thou Spirit, who led'st this glorious Eremite Into the desert, his victorious field Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire, As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute, And bear through highth or depth of Nature's bounds, With prosperous wing full summed, to tell of deeds Above heroic, though in secret done, And unrecorded left through many an age: Worthy to have not remained so long unsung. Now had the great Proclaimer, with a voice More awful than the sound of trumpet, cried Repentance, and Heaven's kingdom nigh at hand To all baptized. To his great baptism flocked With awe the regions round, and with them came From Nazareth the son of Joseph deemed To the flood Jordan--came as then obscure, Unmarked, unknown. But him the Baptist soon Descried, divinely warned, and witness bore As to his worthier, and would have resigned To him his heavenly office. Nor was long His witness unconfirmed: on him baptized Heaven opened, and in likeness of a Dove The Spirit descended, while the Father's voice From Heaven pronounced him his beloved Son. That heard the Adversary, who, roving still About the world, at that assembly famed Would not be last, and, with the voice divine Nigh thunder-struck, the exalted man to whom Such high attest was given a while surveyed With wonder; then, with envy fraught and rage, Flies to his place, nor rests, but in mid air To council summons all his mighty Peers, Within thick clouds and dark tenfold involved, A gloomy consistory; and them amidst, With looks aghast and sad, he thus bespake:-- "O ancient Powers of Air and this wide World (For much more willingly I mention Air, This our old conquest, than remember Hell, Our hated habitation), well ye know How many ages, as the years of men, This Universe we have possessed, and ruled In manner at our will the affairs of Earth, Since Adam and his facile consort Eve Lost Paradise, deceived by me, though since With dread attending when that fatal wound Shall be inflicted by the seed of Eve Upon my head. Long the decrees of Heaven Delay, for longest time to Him is short; And now, too soon for us, the circling hours This dreaded time have compassed, wherein we Must bide the stroke of that long-threatened wound (At least, if so we can, and by the head Broken be not intended all our power To be infringed, our freedom and our being In this fair empire won of Earth and Air)-- For this ill news I bring: The Woman's Seed, Destined to this, is late of woman born. His birth to our just fear gave no small cause; But his growth now to youth's full flower, displaying All virtue, grace and wisdom to achieve Things highest, greatest, multiplies my fear. Before him a great Prophet, to proclaim His coming, is sent harbinger, who all Invites, and in the consecrated stream Pretends to wash off sin, and fit them so Purified to receive him pure, or rather To do him honour as their King. All come, And he himself among them was baptized-- Not thence to be more pure, but to receive The testimony of Heaven, that who he is Thenceforth the nations may not doubt. I saw The Prophet do him reverence; on him, rising Out of the water, Heaven above the clouds Unfold her crystal doors; thence on his head A perfet Dove descend (whate'er it meant); And out of Heaven the sovraign voice I heard, 'This is my Son beloved,--in him am pleased.' His mother, than, is mortal, but his Sire He who obtains the monarchy of Heaven; And what will He not do to advance his Son? His first-begot we know, and sore have felt, When his fierce thunder drove us to the Deep; Who this is we must learn, for Man he seems In all his lineaments, though in his face The glimpses of his Father's glory shine. Ye see our danger on the utmost edge Of hazard, which admits no long debate, But must with something sudden be opposed (Not force, but well-couched fraud, well-woven snares), Ere in the head of nations he appear, Their king, their leader, and supreme on Earth. I, when no other durst, sole undertook The dismal expedition to find out And ruin Adam, and the exploit performed Successfully: a calmer voyage now Will waft me; and the way found prosperous once Induces best to hope of like success." He ended, and his words impression left Of much amazement to the infernal crew, Distracted and surprised with deep dismay At these sad tidings. But no time was then For long indulgence to their fears or grief: Unanimous they all commit the care And management of this man enterprise To him, their great Dictator, whose attempt At first against mankind so well had thrived In Adam's overthrow, and led their march From Hell's deep-vaulted den to dwell in light, Regents, and potentates, and kings, yea gods, Of many a pleasant realm and province wide. So to the coast of Jordan he directs His easy steps, girded with snaky wiles, Where he might likeliest find this new-declared, This man of men, attested Son of God, Temptation and all guile on him to try-- So to subvert whom he suspected raised To end his reign on Earth so long enjoyed: But, contrary, unweeting he fulfilled The purposed counsel, pre-ordained and fixed, Of the Most High, who, in full frequence bright Of Angels, thus to Gabriel smiling spake:-- "Gabriel, this day, by proof, thou shalt behold, Thou and all Angels conversant on Earth With Man or men's affairs, how I begin To verify that solemn message late, On which I sent thee to the Virgin pure In Galilee, that she should bear a son, Great in renown, and called the Son of God. Then told'st her, doubting how these things could be To her a virgin, that on her should come The Holy Ghost, and the power of the Highest O'ershadow her. This Man, born and now upgrown, To shew him worthy of his birth divine And high prediction, henceforth I expose To Satan; let him tempt, and now assay His utmost subtlety, because he boasts And vaunts of his great cunning to the throng Of his Apostasy. He might have learnt Less overweening, since he failed in Job, Whose constant perseverance overcame Whate'er his cruel malice could invent. He now shall know I can produce a man, Of female seed, far abler to resist All his solicitations, and at length All his vast force, and drive him back to Hell-- Winning by conquest what the first man lost By fallacy surprised. But first I mean To exercise him in the Wilderness; There he shall first lay down the rudiments Of his great warfare, ere I send him forth To conquer Sin and Death, the two grand foes. By humiliation and strong sufferance His weakness shall o'ercome Satanic strength, And all the world, and mass of sinful flesh; That all the Angels and aethereal Powers-- They now, and men hereafter--may discern From what consummate virtue I have chose This perfet man, by merit called my Son, To earn salvation for the sons of men." So spake the Eternal Father, and all Heaven Admiring stood a space; then into hymns Burst forth, and in celestial measures moved, Circling the throne and singing, while the hand Sung with the voice, and this the argument:-- "Victory and triumph to the Son of God, Now entering his great duel, not of arms, But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles! The Father knows the Son; therefore secure Ventures his filial virtue, though untried, Against whate'er may tempt, whate'er seduce, Allure, or terrify, or undermine. Be frustrate, all ye stratagems of Hell, And, devilish machinations, come to nought!" So they in Heaven their odes and vigils tuned. Meanwhile the Son of God, who yet some days Lodged in Bethabara, where John baptized, Musing and much revolving in his breast How best the mighty work he might begin Of Saviour to mankind, and which way first Publish his godlike office now mature, One day forth walked alone, the Spirit leading And his deep thoughts, the better to converse With solitude, till, far from track of men, Thought following thought, and step by step led on, He entered now the bordering Desert wild, And, with dark shades and rocks environed round, His holy meditations thus pursued:-- "O what a multitude of thoughts at once Awakened in me swarm, while I consider What from within I feel myself, and hear What from without comes often to my ears, Ill sorting with my present state compared! When I was yet a child, no childish play To me was pleasing; all my mind was set Serious to learn and know, and thence to do, What might be public good; myself I thought Born to that end, born to promote all truth, All righteous things. Therefore, above my years, The Law of God I read, and found it sweet; Made it my whole delight, and in it grew To such perfection that, ere yet my age Had measured twice six years, at our great Feast I went into the Temple, there to hear The teachers of our Law, and to propose What might improve my knowledge or their own, And was admired by all. Yet this not all To which my spirit aspired. Victorious deeds Flamed in my heart, heroic acts--one while To rescue Israel from the Roman yoke; Then to subdue and quell, o'er all the earth, Brute violence and proud tyrannic power, Till truth were freed, and equity restored: Yet held it more humane, more heavenly, first By winning words to conquer willing hearts, And make persuasion do the work of fear; At least to try, and teach the erring soul, Not wilfully misdoing, but unware Misled; the stubborn only to subdue. These growing thoughts my mother soon perceiving, By words at times cast forth, inly rejoiced, And said to me apart, 'High are thy thoughts, O Son! but nourish them, and let them soar To what highth sacred virtue and true worth Can raise them, though above example high; By matchless deeds express thy matchless Sire. For know, thou art no son of mortal man; Though men esteem thee low of parentage, Thy Father is the Eternal King who rules All Heaven and Earth, Angels and sons of men. A messenger from God foretold thy birth Conceived in me a virgin; he foretold Thou shouldst be great, and sit on David's throne, And of thy kingdom there should be no end. At thy nativity a glorious quire Of Angels, in the fields of Bethlehem, sung To shepherds, watching at their folds by night, And told them the Messiah now was born, Where they might see him; and to thee they came, Directed to the manger where thou lay'st; For in the inn was left no better room. A Star, not seen before, in heaven appearing, Guided the Wise Men thither from the East, To honour thee with incense, myrrh, and gold; By whose bright course led on they found the place, Affirming it thy star, new-graven in heaven, By which they knew thee King of Israel born. Just Simeon and prophetic Anna, warned By vision, found thee in the Temple, and spake, Before the altar and the vested priest, Like things of thee to all that present stood.' This having heart, straight I again revolved The Law and Prophets, searching what was writ Concerning the Messiah, to our scribes Known partly, and soon found of whom they spake I am--this chiefly, that my way must lie Through many a hard assay, even to the death, Ere I the promised kingdom can attain, Or work redemption for mankind, whose sins' Full weight must be transferred upon my head. Yet, neither thus disheartened or dismayed, The time prefixed I waited; when behold The Baptist (of whose birth I oft had heard, Not knew by sight) now come, who was to come Before Messiah, and his way prepare! I, as all others, to his baptism came, Which I believed was from above; but he Straight knew me, and with loudest voice proclaimed Me him (for it was shewn him so from Heaven)-- Me him whose harbinger he was; and first Refused on me his baptism to confer, As much his greater, and was hardly won. But, as I rose out of the laving stream, Heaven opened her eternal doors, from whence The Spirit descended on me like a Dove; And last, the sum of all, my Father's voice, Audibly heard from Heaven, pronounced me his, Me his beloved Son, in whom alone He was well pleased: by which I knew the time Now full, that I no more should live obscure, But openly begin, as best becomes The authority which I derived from Heaven. And now by some strong motion I am led Into this wilderness; to what intent I learn not yet. Perhaps I need not know; For what concerns my knowledge God reveals." So spake our Morning Star, then in his rise, And, looking round, on every side beheld A pathless desert, dusk with horrid shades. The way he came, not having marked return, Was difficult, by human steps untrod; And he still on was led, but with such thoughts Accompanied of things past and to come Lodged in his breast as well might recommend Such solitude before choicest society. Full forty days he passed--whether on hill Sometimes, anon in shady vale, each night Under the covert of some ancient oak Or cedar to defend him from the dew, Or harboured in one cave, is not revealed; Nor tasted human food, nor hunger felt, Till those days ended; hungered then at last Among wild beasts. They at his sight grew mild, Nor sleeping him nor waking harmed; his walk The fiery serpent fled and noxious worm; The lion and fierce tiger glared aloof. But now an aged man in rural weeds, Following, as seemed, the quest of some stray eye, Or withered sticks to gather, which might serve Against a winter's day, when winds blow keen, To warm him wet returned from field at eve, He saw approach; who first with curious eye Perused him, then with words thus uttered spake:-- "Sir, what ill chance hath brought thee to this place, So far from path or road of men, who pass In troop or caravan? for single none Durst ever, who returned, and dropt not here His carcass, pined with hunger and with droughth. I ask the rather, and the more admire, For that to me thou seem'st the man whom late Our new baptizing Prophet at the ford Of Jordan honoured so, and called thee Son Of God. I saw and heard, for we sometimes Who dwell this wild, constrained by want, come forth To town or village nigh (nighest is far), Where aught we hear, and curious are to hear, What happens new; fame also finds us out." To whom the Son of God:--"Who brought me hither Will bring me hence; no other guide I seek." "By miracle he may," replied the swain; "What other way I see not; for we here Live on tough roots and stubs, to thirst inured More than the camel, and to drink go far-- Men to much misery and hardship born. But, if thou be the Son of God, command That out of these hard stones be made thee bread; So shalt thou save thyself, and us relieve With food, whereof we wretched seldom taste." He ended, and the Son of God replied:-- "Think'st thou such force in bread? Is it not written (For I discern thee other than thou seem'st), Man lives not by bread only, but each word Proceeding from the mouth of God, who fed Our fathers here with manna? In the Mount Moses was forty days, nor eat nor drank; And forty days Eliah without food Wandered this barren waste; the same I now. Why dost thou, then, suggest to me distrust Knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?" Whom thus answered the Arch-Fiend, now undisguised:-- "'Tis true, I am that Spirit unfortunate Who, leagued with millions more in rash revolt, Kept not my happy station, but was driven With them from bliss to the bottomless Deep-- Yet to that hideous place not so confined By rigour unconniving but that oft, Leaving my dolorous prison, I enjoy Large liberty to round this globe of Earth, Or range in the Air; nor from the Heaven of Heavens Hath he excluded my resort sometimes. I came, among the Sons of God, when he Gave up into my hands Uzzean Job, To prove him, and illustrate his high worth; And, when to all his Angels he proposed To draw the proud king Ahab into fraud, That he might fall in Ramoth, they demurring, I undertook that office, and the tongues Of all his flattering prophets glibbed with lies To his destruction, as I had in charge: For what he bids I do. Though I have lost Much lustre of my native brightness, lost To be beloved of God, I have not lost To love, at least contemplate and admire, What I see excellent in good, or fair, Or virtuous; I should so have lost all sense. What can be then less in me than desire To see thee and approach thee, whom I know Declared the Son of God, to hear attent Thy wisdom, and behold thy godlike deeds? Men generally think me much a foe To all mankind. Why should I? they to me Never did wrong or violence. By them I lost not what I lost; rather by them I gained what I have gained, and with them dwell Copartner in these regions of the World, If not disposer--lend them oft my aid, Oft my advice by presages and signs, And answers, oracles, portents, and dreams, Whereby they may direct their future life. Envy, they say, excites me, thus to gain Companions of my misery and woe! At first it may be; but, long since with woe Nearer acquainted, now I feel by proof That fellowship in pain divides not smart, Nor lightens aught each man's peculiar load; Small consolation, then, were Man adjoined. This wounds me most (what can it less?) that Man, Man fallen, shall be restored, I never more." To whom our Saviour sternly thus replied:-- "Deservedly thou griev'st, composed of lies From the beginning, and in lies wilt end, Who boast'st release from Hell, and leave to come Into the Heaven of Heavens. Thou com'st, indeed, As a poor miserable captive thrall Comes to the place where he before had sat Among the prime in splendour, now deposed, Ejected, emptied, gazed, unpitied, shunned, A spectacle of ruin, or of scorn, To all the host of Heaven. The happy place Imparts to thee no happiness, no joy-- Rather inflames thy torment, representing Lost bliss, to thee no more communicable; So never more in Hell than when in Heaven. But thou art serviceable to Heaven's King! Wilt thou impute to obedience what thy fear Extorts, or pleasure to do ill excites? What but thy malice moved thee to misdeem Of righteous Job, then cruelly to afflict him With all inflictions? but his patience won. The other service was thy chosen task, To be a liar in four hundred mouths; For lying is thy sustenance, thy food. Yet thou pretend'st to truth! all oracles By thee are given, and what confessed more true Among the nations? That hath been thy craft, By mixing somewhat true to vent more lies. But what have been thy answers? what but dark, Ambiguous, and with double sense deluding, Which they who asked have seldom understood, And, not well understood, as good not known? Who ever, by consulting at thy shrine, Returned the wiser, or the more instruct To fly or follow what concerned him most, And run not sooner to his fatal snare? For God hath justly given the nations up To thy delusions; justly, since they fell Idolatrous. But, when his purpose is Among them to declare his providence, To thee not known, whence hast thou then thy truth, But from him, or his Angels president In every province, who, themselves disdaining To approach thy temples, give thee in command What, to the smallest tittle, thou shalt say To thy adorers? Thou, with trembling fear, Or like a fawning parasite, obey'st; Then to thyself ascrib'st the truth foretold. But this thy glory shall be soon retrenched; No more shalt thou by oracling abuse The Gentiles; henceforth oracles are ceased, And thou no more with pomp and sacrifice Shalt be enquired at Delphos or elsewhere-- At least in vain, for they shall find thee mute. God hath now sent his living Oracle Into the world to teach his final will, And sends his Spirit of Truth henceforth to dwell In pious hearts, an inward oracle To all truth requisite for men to know." So spake our Saviour; but the subtle Fiend, Though inly stung with anger and disdain, Dissembled, and this answer smooth returned:-- "Sharply thou hast insisted on rebuke, And urged me hard with doings which not will, But misery, hath wrested from me. Where Easily canst thou find one miserable, And not inforced oft-times to part from truth, If it may stand him more in stead to lie, Say and unsay, feign, flatter, or abjure? But thou art placed above me; thou art Lord; From thee I can, and must, submiss, endure Cheek or reproof, and glad to scape so quit. Hard are the ways of truth, and rough to walk, Smooth on the tongue discoursed, pleasing to the ear, And tunable as sylvan pipe or song; What wonder, then, if I delight to hear Her dictates from thy mouth? most men admire Virtue who follow not her lore. Permit me To hear thee when I come (since no man comes), And talk at least, though I despair to attain. Thy Father, who is holy, wise, and pure, Suffers the hypocrite or atheous priest To tread his sacred courts, and minister About his altar, handling holy things, Praying or vowing, and voutsafed his voice To Balaam reprobate, a prophet yet Inspired: disdain not such access to me." To whom our Saviour, with unaltered brow:-- "Thy coming hither, though I know thy scope, I bid not, or forbid. Do as thou find'st Permission from above; thou canst not more." He added not; and Satan, bowling low His gray dissimulation, disappeared, Into thin air diffused: for now began Night with her sullen wing to double-shade The desert; fowls in their clay nests were couched; And now wild beasts came forth the woods to roam.