Paradise Lost, 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary

By Earl Miner; William Moeck et al. | Go to book overview

Excursus 7.594

MUSIC AND THE SABBATH

the Harp Had work and rested not, the solemn Pipe, And Dulcimer, all organs of sweet stop, All sounds on fret by String or Golden Wire Temper'd soft Tunings, intermixt with Voice Choral or Unison. (7.594–99)

Heaven, angels, harps, and songs—we seem to have heard of it before. But Milton lived in a musical culture different from ours. In the lines above, we read of “all organs” and “All sounds.” What are those alls? How are we to understand what it is no mere wordplay to call the scale of this music? One answer involves the response of that third of the angels who fell to Satan's call for war: “out-flew / Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs / Of mighty Cherubim” (1.663– 65). It does not matter if there were also seraphim, archangels, and others in kind there at that moment. The point is, millions.

That point has still not been made adequately. On the Son's offer to suffer incarnation and ignominious sacrifice that human sinners may be forgiven,

The multitude of Angels with a shout Loud as from numbers without number, sweet As from blest voices, uttering joy

ring forth (3.345–47). They cast before the thrones their golden crowns, from which amaranth flowers bloom. Then having crowned themselves again,

again thir gold'n Harps they took, Harps ever tun'd, that glittering by thir side Like Quivers hung, and with Praeamble sweet Of charming symphonie they introduce Thir sacred Song, and waken raptures high; No voice exempt, no voice but well could joine Melodious part, such concord is in Heav'n. (3.365–71)

Stopping short of the words they sing, we can reflect on these touches of the Miltonic sublime: “as from numbers without number … No voice exempt”—all the alls, every each one. And having gone only so far, we see how those glittering, ever tuned harps which “by thir side / Like quivers hung” recall that in Hell “Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs / Of mighty cherubim” out-fly their scabbards. The quiverlike harps will be changed for weapons when there is war in Heaven. In Hell, choice is more limited, and no song follows from those “mighty Cherubim.” Instead,

highly they rag'd Against the Highest, and fierce with grasped Arms Clash'd on thir sounding Shields the din of war, Hurling defiance toward the Vault of Heav'n. (1.666–69)

Highly against the highest, and then the banging of weapons on shields. The weapons no doubt include those flaming swords, along with spears and halberds. But their bellicosity rings hollow, for they can hurl no weapons, only words (“defiance”), and those only “toward” Heaven, without the remotest chance of reaching, much less harming, the “Highest.”

In this epic, however, even Hell has instrumental sound and music. To be sure, it may be partly simile, as for the senate house in Pandaemonium, part of a passage most highly esteemed by early readers of the poem.

As in an Organ from one blast of wind To many a row of Pipes the sound-board breaths. Anon out of the Earth a Fabrick huge Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet. (1.708–12)

It seems that in Hell the organ exists only in that simile:

awful Ceremony And Trumpets sound throughout the Host proclaim A solemn Councel forthwith to be held At Pandaemonium, the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers. (1.753–77)

Similarly, once the rigged proceedings are over, the demonic authorities seek to give notice:

-471-

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Paradise Lost, 1668-1968: Three Centuries of Commentary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 11
  • Introduction 15
  • Early Comment 31
  • Book 1 - The Rebel Angels Awaken to Hell's Flames 51
  • Book 2 - Sin Opens the Doors of Hell 97
  • Book 3 - Satan's Hypocrisy Deceives Even Uriel 135
  • Book 4 - God Creates Adam and Eve 165
  • Book 5 - Adam Rids Eve of Satan's Dream 203
  • Book 6 - The Son Expels the Rebel Angels 237
  • Book 7 - Adam and Eve Listen Intently to Raphael 269
  • Book 8 - Raphael Departs After Warning Adam 287
  • Book 9 - The Fall 305
  • Book 10 - The Son Judges and Clothes the Human Pair 335
  • Book 11 - The Vision of Cain Slaying Abel 367
  • Book 12 - The Expulsion 393
  • The Illustrations 421
  • Excursus 1.50 427
  • Excursus 2.921 435
  • Excursus 2.967 439
  • Excursus 3.19 447
  • Excursus 5.791 451
  • Excursus 6.327 457
  • Excursus 6.616 461
  • Excursus 7.126 467
  • Excursus 7.594 471
  • Excursus 8.136 479
  • Excursus 9.512 489
  • Excursus 10.425 495
  • Excursus 11.385 499
  • Excursus 12.553 501
  • Bibliography 505
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