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The symbolic significance of John Milton's Paradise Lost

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Whether it is Satan awakening in Hell among the Rebel angels or the sentimental rigor with which Satan provokes the temptation and fall of Eve, Paradise Lost is immensely powerful and unconventional. Milton’s imagination is sublime, blending poetry with storytelling so that both produce a complex, terrifying yet magnificent portrait of the Fallen human condition. Even so, the depth and scope of Paradise Lost encompass a lot more than this.

Beneath the surface of the poem, its ambitious and labyrinthine pathways, exists an element of pathos; the pursuit of soul, body, and truth, and all that is tucked in between the beautiful and grotesque.

Paradise Lost on a green blanket, classics, best of literature

With vividly extravagant descriptions of Heaven and Hell, the anatomy of cosmic space, and deeply intense reciprocity between the divine and sentient, Milton’s characters are more human than symbolic. They, too, feel pain, suffer, reflect, contradict, and yield to idyllic abstractions that translate passion to emotional excess.

Echoing, in a distinctive and sublime manner, observations that encompass the meaning of existence and the temptation of knowledge. Does choice precede meaning and reason? Or does reason beget choice? Milton’s treatment of freedom, power, romantic illusion and the concept of good and evil suggests a new kind of world where dying is not punishment but a gift that merges life with death after a hideous, absurd, and laborious existence. Such is the magnificent and perplexing complexity of Milton’s understanding of the biblical story of “man’s first disobedience.”

In Paradise Lost, the thematic and poetic significance of life and death are elegant and convey more than what’s explicitly stated. It is tragic and yet its labyrinthine language mirrors mortality, solitude, dreams, sensuality, and the insurmountable hierarchy and dimensions of Being.

In the end, Milton leaves you with a ruinously splendid story. You’re torn, you want Milton’s de-mystified sublimity to redeem the splendour of Paradise. Leaving you completely devastated that you should reach the end so quickly, unable to part with Satan’s tragic heroism. As for me, this is the kind of devastation I would gladly feel over and over again.

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