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Milton's Invocation in "Paradise Lost"

Book I

Lines 1 - 26


'Paradise Lost' contains the prologue. Following classical example, Milton at once states the theme of his epic poem. He states the theme as 'man's first disobedience.' The emphasis is upon man and we don't follow the construction of the first sentence until line six, when we read; "sing, Heavenly Muse." The prologue clearly shows the subject matter is derived from the opening chapters of 'Genesis.' It is about the disobedience of man in eating the fruit of the 'tree of knowledge and his 'Fall' as a consequence, bringing Death in the world. The story also mentions 'the greater Man' who has redeemed mankind.

Here, Milton calls upon Heavenly Muse to support him and he mentions the secret top of Oreb, sacred in Hebric belief and associated with moses. he says:


"That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,

In the beginning how the Heaven and the Earth

Rose out of chaos."


Milton asks his Muse to lead him higher than Aonian mount of the classical poets because the subject of his epic is higher than theirs. Milton is always conscious of his blindness which we find in the line, "what in me is dark, illumine". This poem is both Hebrew and Christian and deals with the profoundest of all problems, "justifying the ways of God to men'. In the first 26 lines, the poet has fused three great civilizations, the main sources of Renaissance religious poetry - classical, Hebrew and Christian.


The poet's sense of dedication to the great Biblical figures and the powerful simplicity represent poetic art of a high order. He calls Christ as God. The water which refreshes him, is the water of Siloa's Brook. Ambition and humility are mingled. Milton appeals to the Holy spirit as omniscient who values the upright and pure heart more than all sacred places of worship.


Nearly all these lines end in long, heavy monosyllables. The suggestion of great beginnings is reinforced by the allusion, "Dove like satst brooding." Creation and arousal come potently together when we are reminded that Heaven and Earth 'rose out of chaos'. All images that can suggest a great beginning have been brought together. The logical connection between these images is not exactly the same as an emotional connection. Milton always provides a facade of logical connection as well.


Milton goes on to say:


"That to the height of this great argument,

I may assert Eternal Providence,

And justify the ways of God to men."


Thus, the poet is at his best in the prologue as there is a wonderful congruity between syntax and versification. The invocation to Milton's Paradise Lost has no parallel in English Narrative Poetry.

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