Paradise Regained by John Milton

I.—The Forty Days

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.

Having thus introduced his subject, the poet describes, on Scriptural lines, the baptism of John, seen by Satan, "when roving still about the world." The Fiend then "flies to his place" and "summons all his mighty peers"—a gloomy consistory—warning them that the time seems approaching when they "must bide the stroke of that long-threatened wound," when "the woman's Seed shall bruise the serpent's head." They agree that Satan shall return to earth and act as Tempter. In Heaven, meantime, God tells the assembly of angels, addressing Gabriel, that He will expose His Son to Satan, in order that the Son may "show him worthy of His birth divine and high prediction." And the angelic choir sings "Victory and triumph to the Son of God."

So they in Heaven their odes and vigils tuned. Meanwhile the Son of God ... 
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 God-like 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.

Christ then, in meditation, tells reminiscently the story of His life.

Full forty days He passed ... 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 ewe, 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.

This is Satan, and, entering into conversation adjures the Son—

"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."

Christ at once discerns who His tempter is and rebuffs him; and the Fiend, "now undisguised," goes on to narrate his own history, arguing that he is not a foe to mankind.

"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 Co-partner in these regions of the world."

Christ, replying, attributes to Satan the evils of Idolatry and the crafty oracles of heathendom, which have taken the place of the "inward oracle in pious hearts," whereupon Satan, "bowing low his gray dissimulation, disappeared."

II.—The Temptation of the Body

Meanwhile the disciples were gathered "close in a cottage low," wondering where Christ could be, and Mary with troubled thoughts, rehearsed the story of His early life. Satan, returning to the council of his fellow fiends, in "the middle region of thick air," reports his failure, and that he has found in the Tempted "amplitude of mind to greatest deeds." Belial advises that the temptation should be continued by women "expert in amorous arts," but Satan rejects the plan, and reminds Belial—

"Among the sons of men How many have with a smile made small account Of beauty and her lures. For beauty stands In the admiration only of weak minds Led captive: cease to admire and all her plumes Fall flat.... We must try His constancy with such as have more show Of worth, of honour, glory, and popular praise."

With this aim Satan again betakes himself to the desert, where Christ, now hungry, sleeps and dreams of food.

And now the herald lark Left his ground-nest, high towering to descry The morn's approach, and greet her with his song, As lightly from his grassy couch uprose Our Saviour, and found all was but a dream; Fasting he went to sleep and fasting waked. Up to a hill anon his steps he reared, And in a bottom saw a pleasant grove, With chant of tuneful birds resounding loud. Thither He bent His way ... When suddenly a man before Him stood,  Not rustic as before, but seemlier clad, As one in city or court or palace bred.

Here Satan again tempts Him with a spread of savoury food, which Jesus dismisses with the words:

"Thy pompous delicacies I contemn, And count thy specious gifts no gifts, but guiles!"

The book closes with the offer of riches, which are rejected as "the toil of fools."

III.—The Temptation of Glory

Finding his weak "arguing and fallacious drift" ineffectual, Satan next appeals to ambition and suggests conquest; but is reminded that conquerors

"Rob and spoil, burn, slaughter, and enslave Peaceable nations, neighbouring or remote, Made captive, yet deserving freedom more Than those their conquerors, who leave behind Nothing but ruin wheresoe'r they rove, And all the flourishing works of peace destroy; Then swell with pride and must be titled gods. But if there be in glory aught of good, It may by means far different be attained; Without ambition, war, or violence, By deeds of peace, by wisdom eminent, By patience, temperance."

But Satan, sardonically, argues that God expects glory, nay, exacts it from all, good and bad alike. To which Christ replies:

"Not glory as prime end, But to show forth his goodness, and impart His good communicable to every soul Freely; of whom what could He less expect Than glory and benediction—that is thanks— The slightest, easiest, readiest recompense From them who could return him nothing else."

But, argues Satan, it is the throne of David to which the Messiah is ordained; why not begin that reign? Hitherto Christ has scarcely seen the Galilean towns, but He shall "quit these rudiments" and survey "the monarchies of the earth, their pomp and state." And thereupon he carries Him to a mountain whence He can see "Assyria and her empire's ancient bounds," and there suggests the deliverance of the Ten Tribes.

"Thou on the Throne of David in full glory, From Egypt to Euphrates and beyond Shalt reign, and Rome or Cæsar not need fear."

The answer is that these things must be left to God's "due time and providence."

IV.—The Last Temptation

The Tempter now brings the Saviour round to the western side of the mountain, and there Rome

An imperial city stood; With towers and temples proudly elevate On seven hills, with palaces adorned, Porches and theatres, baths, aqueducts, Statues and trophies, and triumphal arcs, Gardens and groves. Queen of the Earth, So far renowned, and with the spoils enriched Of nations.

But this "grandeur and majestic show of luxury" has no effect on Christ, who says:

"Know, when my season comes to sit On David's throne, it shall be like a tree Spreading and overshadowing all the earth; Or as a stone that shall to pieces dash All monarchies besides throughout the world, And of my Kingdom there shall be no end."

The offer of the kingdoms of the world incurs the stern rebuke:

"Get thee behind me! Plain thou now appear'st That Evil One, Satan, for ever damned."

Still the Fiend is not utterly abashed, but, arguing that "the childhood shows the man as morning shows the day," and that Christ's empire is one of mind, he, as a last temptation from the "specular mount," shows Athens.

"There thou shalt hear and learn the secret power Of harmony, in tones and numbers hit By voice or hand, and various-measured verse. To sage philosophy next lend thine ear, From Heaven descended to the low-roofed house Of Socrates."

Christ replies that whoever seeks true wisdom in the philosophies, moralities and conjectures of men finds her not, and that the poetry of Greece will not compare with "Hebrew songs and harps." It is the prophets who teach most plainly

"What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so; What ruins kingdoms, and lays cities flat?"

Finding all these temptations futile, Satan explodes:

"Since neither wealth nor honour, arms nor arts, Kingdom nor empire pleases thee, nor aught By me proposed in life contemplative Or active, tended on by glory or fame; What dost thou in this world? The wilderness For thee is fittest place. I found thee there And thither will return thee."

So he transports the passive Saviour back to his homeless solitude.

Our Saviour, meek, and with untroubled mind, Hungry and cold betook himself to rest. The Tempter watched, and soon with ugly dreams Disturbed his sleep. And either tropic now 'Gan thunder, and both ends of Heaven; the clouds From many a rift abortive poured Fierce rain with lightning mixed; water with fire In ruin reconciled. Ill wast Thou shrouded then, O patient Son of God! Yet only stood'st Unshaken! Nor yet staid the terror there. 
Infernal ghosts of hellish furies round Environed thee; some howled, some yelled, some shrieked, Some bent at thee their fiery darts, while thou Sat'st unappalled in calm and sinless peace. Thus passed the night so foul, till morning fair Came forth with pilgrim steps, in amice grey, Who with her radiant finger stilled the roar Of thunder, chased the clouds, and laid the winds, And grisly spectres, which the Fiend had raised To tempt the Son of God with terrors dire. And now the sun with more effectual beams Had cheered the face of earth, and dried the wet From drooping plant, or dropping tree; the birds, Who all things now beheld more fresh and green, After a night of storm so ruinous, Cleared up their choicest notes in bush and spray, To 'gratulate the sweet return of morn.

Satan, in anger, begins the last temptation.

Feigning to doubt whether the Saviour is the Son of God, he snatches him up and carries him to where, in

Fair Jerusalem, the Holy City lifted high her towers And higher yet the glorious Temple reared Her pile; far off appearing like a mount Of alabaster, topp'd with golden spires: There on the highest pinnacle he set The Son of God, and added thus in scorn: "There stand if thou wilt stand; to stand upright will task thy skill." "Tempt not the Lord thy God," He said, and stood. But Satan, smitten with amazement, fell, And to his crew, that sat consulting, brought Ruin, and desperation, and dismay. So Satan fell; and straight a fiery globe, Of angels, on full sail of wing flew nigh, Who on their plumy vans received Him soft, From His uneasy station, and upbore  As on a floating couch through the blithe air; Then in a flowery valley set Him down On a green bank, and set before Him, spread, A table of celestial food.... ....And as He fed, angelic quires Sang Heavenly anthems of His victory Over temptation and the Tempter proud.
"Now Thou hast avenged Supplanted Adam, and, by vanquishing Temptation, hast regained lost Paradise."
Thus they, the Son of God, our Saviour meek, Sung victor, and from Heavenly feast refreshed, Brought on His way with joy. He, unobserved, Home to His mother's house private returned.

 
 The origin of "Paradise Regained" has been told authentically. It was suggested in 1665 by Ellwood the Quaker, who sometimes acted as Milton's amanuensis, and it was finished and shown to Ellwood in 1666, though not published till 1671. Neither in majesty of conception or in charm of style can it compare with "Paradise Lost," to which it is, as has been said, a codicil and not a sequel. The Temptation, the reader feels, was but an incident in the life of Christ and in the drama of the "ways of God to man," which "Paradise Lost" introduced with such stupendous imaginative power. Much of the poem is but a somewhat ambling paraphrase and expansion of Scriptural narratives; but there are passages where Milton resumes his perfect mastery of poetic form, under the inspiration that places him among the selectest band of immortal singers.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton