MEET THE CONTRIBUTORS
We asked all of our contributors to tell us about their favourite lines of Milton and their experiences of reading his work.
But first whom shall we send
In search of this new world, whom shall we find
Sufficient? who shall tempt with wandering feet
The dark unbottomed infinite Abyss
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way, or spread his aery flight
Upborne with indefatigable wings
Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive
The happy isle; what strength, what art can then
Suffice, or what evasion bear him safe
Through the strict sentries and stations thick
Of angels watching round?
~Paradise Lost, II.402.
Satan has been seen by many critics, notably a large number of the Romantics including Blake, as the tragic hero of Paradise Lost. While this may be an exaggeration (especially in the light of his abject and craven trickery later in the poem), the faux-nobility of Satan is certainly evident here (and in the larger passage this excerpt comes from). A new world is posited, Satan seems to be portrayed both as a king sending out his explorers, and as the explorer himself. Satan's closest parallel and one that is perhaps familiar to many is that of Odysseus, who is both king and explorer, noble and prophetic wanderer-an overt analogy is perhaps even made in the reference to the 'happy isle'.
In the lines 'whom shall we send [...] whom shall we find | Sufficient', the 'we' of the assembly is elided with the royal pronoun and Satan makes himself into the assembly, suggesting that he will later represent the assembly on this mission. Furthermore, as the structure of the epic poem allows only the voice of Satan to be heard by the reader at this point, there is a further sense in which Satan expands himself to encompass all present. It seems natural to the reader therefore that the one chosen is Satan; the one who is 'sufficient'.
I have always preferred the explorers and the explorative in literature over the sedentary heroines of writers like Austen and the sedentary interiority of much lyric poetry and stream of consciousness writing. Here Milton opens up new vistas, a 'new world' for the reader and the devils alike, which spreads out before them, not unlike the ending of the poem where Milton describes how 'the world was all before' (XII.646) Adam and Eve. The existence of this new world is predicted, yet it is described in so much loving detail that it already seems an actuality; Satan, in effect, exerts the creative power of God through the descriptions in his speech which are the first ones of length that we get of Paradise. The 'mild zone' (II.397) is the middle ground, the testing place, a field of jousting and a place where absolutes may meet; it is the place of subjectivity where good and evil can exist and fight it out; it is the sphere of poetry and humanity and all that is worth writing about. Satan in one breath is king, creator and explorer; the heroism of Satan, however uncomfortable the idea may make us feel, cannot be denied or pushed aside.
Nicholas is a second year student who comes from a small country called Singapore, where chewing gum is banned. His literary interests include Tyndale, Chandler, and anyone else who does not write too much. Nicholas spends his spare time not playing the piano, not painting with watercolours, and not rowing.
Characters - Satan
Characters - Fallen Angels
Plot Summary: Book II