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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 715-1104. ADAM AND EVE IN DESPAIR

No one could be feeling worse than Adam feels as he watches these appalling changes ruining his world. His long lament begins with the eternal question "Why was I born?" and continues with "When can I die?" It is a meditation on Death by one who doesn't know what to expect and is thoroughly frightened. But the speech also marks Adam's growth: he accepts the responsibility for what has happened, even though he knows that all mankind will curse him for it. No one except Satan himself can approach the enormity of Adam's crime or the eternal extent of his "doom."

Adam lies writhing in misery on the ground, hoping for the relief of Death which will not come. Eve approaches to comfort him, but he turns on her savagely and calls her "serpent."

The following speech sums up all the fury and venom which men have felt for women through the ages. It includes the famous image of the crooked rib, the symbol of everything dishonest about women. The speech is vibrant with Milton's own personal fury against women. Despite his three marriages-or because of them-Milton felt unable to trust women. Everything goes wrong when a man tries to find a "fit mate."



In Milton's case, a wife is first "withheld / By parents," referring to his experience with Mary Powell, whose Royalist family kept her away from Milton for more than three years after they were married. Then he speaks of his experience with Miss Davies, whom he met after he was married and realized she was his "happiest choice" too late. (He does not mention here that he lost his second wife, whom he loved dearly and called his "espoused saint," after only slightly more than a year of marriage.)

Eve takes the only course likely to succeed: she falls at Adam's feet and begs forgiveness. She too finally takes responsibility for her fault, pointing out that she sinned doubly, against Adam and against God. Adam relents. They must work together to lighten their burden now that they must live "A long day's dying."

Eve makes two more suggestions, both of which Adam-now stronger against Eve's arguments by dreadful experience-rejects. She suggests to him that they should not make love so that there will be no children to suffer eternally for their sin. Alternatively, she says, let us kill ourselves now.

Adam has reassumed his leadership in their marriage. Death will not cheat God, for he will find some way to make us feel Death; instead let us live and produce children so that the other part of God's judgment may be performed, the part which promises destruction through the woman's offspring: "to crush his head / Would be revenge indeed."

The idea revives Adam's spirits. Look, Eve, he says, we are still alive-God did not kill us at once. On you he laid the pains of childbirth, but they have their counterpart in the joy of the new baby. I have to work for what we eat, but that is not so bad. Work is better than idleness, and God will help us to cope with the seasons and the weather. He will answer our prayers with fire and other things we need, so that we may live quite comfortably. Let us both go and ask forgiveness on the same spot where he judged us. He will treat us with mercy when we confess our responsibility for our sin.

And so Adam quite unconsciously follows Eve's example: she fell on the ground before him, her God ("he for God only, she for God in him"), and was comforted and forgiven. Now they both do the same, confident in God's grace.

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