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: