To celebrate the 400th birthday of John Milton tomorrow, we offer (not only an issue of The Reader dedicated to him but also) the great closing lines of Paradise Lost. The Serpent has beguiled Eve . She has eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and given it to Adam. God has cursed them and now they are sent forth from Eden (here’s William Blake’s illustration of the expulsion).
Paradise Lost Book 12
So spake our Mother Eve, and Adam heard
Well pleased, but answered not; for now too nigh
The Archangel stood, and from the other hill
To their fixed station, all in bright array?
The Cherubim descended; on the ground
Gliding meteorous, as evening mist?
Risen from a river o’er the marish glides,
And gathers ground fast at the labourer’s heel
Homeward returning. High in front advanced,?
The brandished sword of God before them blazed?
Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat,?
And vapour as the Libyan air adust
Began to parch that temperate clime; whereat?
In either hand the hastening Angel caught?
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate?
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast?
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They looking back, all the eastern side beheld?
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,?
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate?
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:?
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose?
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:?
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,?
Through Eden took their solitary way.
Angels, Archangels, Cherabim’s, flaming swords, meteors: the picture, bathed in mighty, terrible light, is at once terrifying and beautiful. The angel, presumably holding Adam and Eve by the hand, abandons the weeping, fallen couple at the gate of Paradise. With something like childlike wonder their tears are short lived when as one, they turn to face forwards and hand in hand take their first tentative steps into a brand new world in which together they will remain forever and separately, lost .