Paradise Lost: I. Satan’s Will to Power

The Fall of Satan

fall_of_satan
The Fall of Satan by Gustave Doré

Confounded though immortal: But his doom
Reserv’d him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness’d huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate:

O how unlike the place from whence they fell!

Yet not for those,
Nor what the Potent Victor in his rage
Can else inflict, do I repent or change,
Though chang’d in outward lustre; that fixt mind
And high disdain, from sence of injur’d merit,
That with the mightiest rais’d me to contend,

All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.

To be weak is miserable
Doing or Suffering: but of this be sure,
To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist.

Satan In Love and Hate

Eve Tempted by The Serpent
Eve Tempted by the Serpent by William Blake @Victoria and Albert Museum

What pleasing seemd, for her now pleases more,
She most, and in her look summs all Delight.
Such Pleasure took the Serpent to behold
This Flourie Plat, the sweet recess of Eve
Thus earlie, thus alone; her Heav’nly forme
Angelic, but more soft, and Feminine,
Her graceful Innocence, her every Aire
Of gesture or lest action overawd
His Malice, and with rapine sweet bereav’d
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:
That space the Evil one abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remaind
Stupidly good, of enmitie disarm’d,
Of guile, of hate, of envie, of revenge;
But the hot Hell that alwayes in him burnes,
Though in mid Heav’n, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordain’d: then soon
Fierce hate he recollects, and all his thoughts
Of mischief, gratulating, thus excites.

Shee fair, divinely fair, fit Love for Gods,
Not terrible, though terrour be in Love
And beautie, not approacht by stronger hate,
Hate stronger, under shew of Love well feign’d,
The way which to her ruin now I tend.

Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve
Satan Watching the Caresses of Adam and Eve by William Blake @ Museum of Fine Arts Boston

With what delight could I have walkt thee round,
If I could joy in aught, sweet interchange
Of Hill, and Vallie, Rivers, Woods and Plaines,
Now Land, now Sea, and Shores with Forrest crownd,
Rocks, Dens, and Caves; but I in none of these
Find place or refuge; and the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heav’n much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heav’n
To dwell, unless by maistring Heav’ns Supreame;
Nor hope to be my self less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For onely in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts;

The Will to Power

Milton’s portrayal of Satan and his “unconquerable Will” is reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s incisive criticism of the Will to Power in Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing:

There is a wisdom which is not from above, but is earthly and fleshly and devilish. It has discovered this common human weakness and indolence; it wants to be helpful. It perceives that all depends upon the will and so it proclaims loudly, “Unless it wills one thing, a man’s life is sure to become one of wretched mediocrity, of pitiful misery. He must will one thing regardless of whether it be good or bad. He must will one thing for therein lies a man’s greatness.” Yet it is not difficult to see through this powerful error. As to the working out of salvation, the holy Scripture teaches that sin is the corruption of man. Salvation, therefore, lies only in the purity with which a man wills the Good. That very earthly and devilish cleverness distorts this into a temptation to perdition: weakness is a man’s misfortune, strength the sole salvation.

But no matter how desperately such a man may seem to will one thing, he is double-minded. When he had found no rest in the desert, when the giddiness passes away for a moment, he feels an agonizing longing for the Good, shaken in his innermost being, and not without sadness, his painful double-mindedness discovered. Desperate as he was, he thought: lost is lost. But he could not help turning around once more in his longing for the Good. How terribly embittered he had become against this very longing, a longing that reveals that, just as a man in all his defiance has not power enough wholly to loose himself from the Good, because it is the stronger, so he has not even the power wholly to will it.

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4 thoughts on “Paradise Lost: I. Satan’s Will to Power

  1. I finally read Paradise Lost this year for a blog read-along and it quickly became my favourite book of the year. Milton’s characterization of Satan is brilliant. I read C.S. Lewis’ The Preface to Paradise Lost to help me along while reading and received some wonderful insights. Thanks for the link to the Yale Courses ….. I didn’t know that existed. I’d like to read Samon Agonistes in the next couple of years, so the link will be helpful!

    Cheers!

    ~ Cleo ~

    1. It’s baffling to me how Milton reconciles his politics, which supports regicide in the name of freedom, with his religion, which commands obedience to God, the King of Kings.

      1. I read in both Lewis’ “A Preface ….” and also the introduction to Thomas More’s Utopia, that not everyone who carried the name of king was viewed as a king and that there was a distinction made between a king and a tyrant. I don’t know the Milton’s story well enough or the history surrounding him, but perhaps by making that distinction he was able to reconcile his actions …..??

      2. I agree that there is a distinction to be made between kingship and tyranny. But Milton seems to object to kingship as well, based on his belief in the equality of all men, the same type of argument/excuse Satan made for his rebellion. It seems that Milton himself struggled with these conflicting ides, and that’s why his Satan sounds so appealing.

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