“Bid welcome your new landlord – whose mind will not be changed by tome or place.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, or hell of heaven. What does it matter where I am? What matters is that I am and shall remain…”
“Here at least we shall be free. Here we are beyond his almighty envy; he will not drive us out from here. Here our reign is secure. And what we won is worth it, in my view, even if our kingdom be in hell.
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
“Paradise Lost”, book 1, lines c254 – c264
Prose edition by Dennis Danielson
I don’t read nearly as much or as well as I once did. But I am working on tying up a few loose ends, one of which is that I never read Milton’s “Paradise Lost”
I know many of my friends do not have this failure on their record. I specifically would value your point of view on the thoughts below.
When I read the first paragraph above, and parts of the second, I thought I might be reading a modern “self-help” sort of book like I kept seeing at various crises in my own life, and prone to moan over my change in circumstances – You know the sort of advice – “It’s not so bad, it’s all in the way you think of it!” “There is a bright side to everything, find it, and ‘Keep on the Sunny Side’.” After all, if one can’t learn important life lessons from Mother Maybelle Carter, where can a fella’ turn? Seemed and seems like good advice, and I have tried to learn from it.
But as they say on TV, “Wait! There’s more!”
or at least I think there is.
Milton puts this speech in the mouth of satan, just as he is taking up residence in hell, having been cast out of heaven with his company of rebels. The second paragraph is perhaps to the point. I often think of these lines when hearing the Sinatra standard “I Did it My Way”
Here is my wonder for the day…
Given that satan is rationalizing in his self-delusion, I am inclined to think that whether the “self-help” advise is good or bad in sounding like the first paragraph, Milton meant something deeper. He would have thought satan was wrong even here.
I am becoming more and more convinced that a “unity” is a good thing – unity between various thoughts of mine, about my analysis of different examples of the same issues, unity between my thoughts and my behavior (that is a big one, which I have violated to my discredit and harm), unity between my private and my public life; between my inner and outer life. When the Bible speaks of being “double minded” or “single minded” I think this is the sort of unity envisioned.
Perhaps Milton would have thought that satan’s boast that he remains the same, dwelling in heaven or hell, is an example of the development of just such a discontinuity – that far from a virtue of being undisturbed by his change of fortunes, it is the beginning of a dis-integration, of his inward perception becoming separated from his outward vision; as a result, we get in my second paragraph a distorted vision of the nature of freedom, of heaven and of hell. I expect further descent into madness may happen.
But then, I haven’t yet read the whole poem!