“Elegy in the locus amoenus, it becomes

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“Elegy inhabits a world of contradictions” (Weisman
1). Indeed, when consulting the Oxford
Handbook of Elegy, it can cause more confusion than clarity, as there is a
lack of certainty what “elegiac” really denotes and there is little scholarly
consensus about what constitutes an elegy (Weisman 2). From its origins in
traditions of singing songs of lament in ancient Greece (Nagy 14), to Old
English elegies, to Roman love elegies in the Renaissance, all the way to
modern England’s pastoral, which takes the elegy and places it in the locus
amoenus, it becomes clear that the elegy has gone through an astounding
transformative journey (Nagy 14). Indeed, the elegy is a multi-facetted form,
whose general concern, however, is the framing of loss, the expression of grief
and the confrontation of mortality (Weisman 1). Nonetheless, more innovative
understandings of this field have suggested that the elegy’s primary concern
with loss can be applied to nature, as the environment can be seen as the ultimate
lost object (Morton 252). The natural world that the pastoral tradition uses as
an “echo chamber for grief,” turns out to be “the most radical possible content
for elegy” (Morton 253). Thus, given the versatility of elegy and its possible
concern with the natural world, Satan’s soliloquy in Paradise Lost, Book IX (99-191),
deserves to be reconsidered as a mere introductory element to the highly
anticipated Fall that takes place in the same book and needs to be
re-classified as individual constituent and poem within the entire Paradise Lost epic. Indeed, after being
cast into Hell and his continuous attempt to rebel against God, we find Satan
in his most desperate state, as he is about to take on the shape of a serpent
in order to execute the Fall. However, before the most dramatic scene in human
history takes place, Satan, surprisingly and unexpectedly, bursts out in praise
for the Earth and its beauty and continuously pays significant attention to the
natural world in such a way that the ecological infused theme cannot be merely
regarded as embellishment of his soliloquy. In addition, Satan’s soliloquy can
be divided into three distinct concerns, which are praise, lament and a
resistance of consolation, which all mirror the structure of a funeral elegy
(Clymer 170); therefore, this paper will argue that Satan’s soliloquy can be
considered an elegy to the Earth.

To begin with, an integral part of the funeral elegy
is the poet’s praise of the dead and his or her idealized virtues (Clymer 172),
which, in the case of Satan’s soliloquy, correspond to Satan’s proclaimed
adoration for the Earth. Before considering the many ways in which Satan
expresses his reverence for the natural world, it is essential to contextualize
his soliloquy in the events of Paradise
Lost in order to better grasp the state in which Satan is found in his
soliloquy. After having been cast into Hell by Gabriel in the battle of Book VI,
Satan escaped and compassed the Earth for seven days; as Satan selected the
serpent as the most adequate animal to continue his relentless and tenacious
rebellion against God through the temptation of Adam and Eve, he thereupon
returns to the garden of Eden on the eighth day (48-98). With seven known in
biblical terms as the number of completeness and perfection (Couch 72), it is
no coincidence that Satan roamed the Earth for seven days in order to witness
its entire beauty and majesty, which he would then articulate in his soliloquy.
Indeed, Satan expresses his praise for the Earth in various ways, one of which being
the assessment of the Earth in relation to Heaven. Therefore, Satan begins his
soliloquy with the hyperbolic words “O Earth, how like to Heaven, if not
preferred / More justly, seat worthier of Gods” (99-100), and thus attributes
divinity to the space of the Earth, as opposed to Heaven that is inhabited by
God. Moreover, Satan’s partisan interpretation of the importance of the Earth
becomes especially apparent when he states that God created the Earth “With
second thoughts, reforming what was old” (101); thus Satan labels Heaven as an
old and insufficient model that needed to be “reformed.” This choice of word
reflects the relevant conversation that was still held at the time of publication
of Paradise Lost in 1674, namely the
reformation and restructuring of the Catholic Church; Milton, who was allied to
the Protestant Puritan cause and intensely devoted himself to this topic (Suh
23) thus lent this utterly significant term to Satan as a tool to emphasize the
utmost importance that the new model, the “reformed Heaven” held in Satan’s
eyes and thereby, Earth becomes a purified Heaven analogous to the protestant
project of reforming the church. Furthermore, Satan highlights the uniqueness
of the Earth by calling it a “terrestrial heaven” that is “danced around by
other heavens” (103), whose lights and beams are directed towards. Therefore,
in Satan’s Ptolemaic and thus earth-centered system1,
this planet, as a matter of fact, receives a “spotlight” from the other orbs. Satan’s
adoration for the Earth becomes furthermore apparent in the way he structures
and phrases his praise. Indeed, Satan does not talk about the Earth, when he pronounces
his admiration, he talks to the Earth,
as indicated by the numerous personal pronouns, such as thee and thou, and
illustrates Satan’s personification of the Earth. Moreover, the various
exclamations throughout the laudatory part of his soliloquy give his panegyric the
prayer-like tone that is so characteristic of elegies and reflect Satan’s
strong emotional involvement in this matter (Watterson 139). Thus Satan praises
the Earth through utilizing comparisons with Heaven and structural elements,
that combined, constitute the integral concern of praise of an elegy.

In addition, a further theme of elegies is
lamentation, which, in Satan’s soliloquy, resembles his expression of grief over
a future prospect without the Earth; thus Satan renders the Earth the object of
lamentation. As established beforehand, in elegies “usually the person departs
and the environment mirrors our feelings”; in ecological thinking, however,
this structure is overturned, as there the fear is that “we will go on living
while the environment disappears around us” (Morton 253). Indeed, when looking
at Satan’s soliloquy, the Earth is not lost or destroyed in any way that could
correspond to the death or departure of a beloved one in a traditional elegy.
However, when Satan exclaims, “With what delight could I have walked thee
round, / If I could joy in aught”(114-115), the use of conditional illustrates that
Satan envisions an idealized version in which he could rightfully exist and
inhabit the Earth, but mourns that this never was and never will be a realistic
option, as he is fully aware of the fact that he will be sent back to Hell after
the Fall (136, 171). Thus, Satan laments his future existence without the Earth
and therefore presupposes the very loss he wants to prevent (Morton 255). Indeed,
the fact that Satan is on Earth at
the moment he mourns his future prospect without
the Earth demonstrates the distinct kind of lamentation that takes place in
ecological infused elegies; there the events have not yet taken place, as
environmental language is an incomplete process and possesses an unusual
organization of time that is created by lamenting something that is not yet
gone. As readers of Satan’s soliloquy we have to occupy two places at once: “we
have to project through imagination into the future and look back on the
present” (Morton 254). Indeed, we have to imagine the future of Satan in Hell, separated
from his beloved and dear Earth, and look back on the present, where Satan is
lamenting this future prospect. Thus, when Satan shifts and pulls himself and
the reader back to reality by stating that, “But I in none of these / Find
place or refuge” (118), he acknowledges that he is still surrounded by the
beauty of the natural world. Therefore, the fact that Satan’s cause for grief
and lamentation still lays in the future leads, in this particular case, to the
reversal of pathetic fallacy found in pastoral, which is, as established
before, a diversification of the elegy. Indeed, Satan goes on to say that “the
more I see / Pleasures about me, so much more I feel / Torment within me, as
from the hateful siege / Of contraries: all good to me becomes / Bane”
(119-123). This is in so far interesting as it very much reverses the custom of
pathetic fallacy in pastoral, which imparts human feelings to natural objects
(F. Dick 30). Therefore, the beauty of Eden exacerbates Satan’s lamentation and
grief; moreover, the emotions within Satan not only contrast the state of
nature around him, but nature itself triggers emotions within Satan and not the
other way around. Furthermore, the fact that Satan is surrounded by his object
of lamentation resembles very much the epicedium of traditional elegies, where the
poet’s close proximity to the corpse, in this case Eden, leads to his or her
intensified expression of emotions and grief (Clymer 171). Hence, Satan’s
lamentation of his future existence without the Earth, while still being
surrounded by its beauty, reflects the distinct kind of lamentation found in
ecological writing, which is why the Earth can be considered Satan’s object of
lamentation. However, by the end of his eulogistic tribute Satan realizes the
futility of “dwelling” about his fate (124-125), which hints at a possible
acceptance of loss and thus provides the basis for a progression into the third
stage of the elegy, namely consolation.

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The third and last stage of funeral elegies is consolation
(Clymer 172); however, in this case, Satan himself vehemently refuses
consolation. After the praise and the lament, the elegy is usually rounded off
with consolation, which, for example, emphasizes death as a better state
(Morton 171). This is no coincidence, as elegies were meant to “evoke a certain
religious sublime,” whereby the poet, after the “despairing contemplation of
death, is overcome by exultant confirmation of Christian eschatology,” which
gives rise to what should be at the center of an elegy; Christian faith (Clymer
172). However, with Satan being God’s direct opponent, the focus on Christian
tenets, such as the after life, where Satan will be compensated for all his
pain, and his biggest fears will vanish while his dearest wishes will come
true, is only made possible through God, whom Satan is currently rebelling
against. Thus, consolation, as traditionally found in elegies, cannot take
place as Satan is going against the one and only, who is able to bring
consolation. However, it is important to mention that elegies can indeed refuse
consolation, whereby the pain remains unredeemed (Clymer 180). Cole states that
the strident resistance of consolation occurs in elegies, whose underlying
grief is complicated; this complicated grief is furthermore referred to as
melancholia, which is a type of grief that is “especially untidy, unresolved
and conflicted” (Cole 190). Indeed the resistance or refusal of consolation
transpires also in Satan’s soliloquy, as Satan, who is aware of his desperate
situation, states that he does not “hope to be myself less miserable / By what
I seek, but others to make such / As I, though thereby worse to me redound, / For
only in destroying I find ease” (126-129). Not only does Satan here and in the
subsequent lines demonstrate that he does not expect consolation – not even hope
for relief, he merely shows the reader where his inconsolable grief is driving
him; to the temptation of Adam and Eve, which will inevitably land Satan in
Hell again (130-136). Therefore, considering Satan’s alleged adoration for the Earth,
his willingness to be thrown back into Hell confirms the self-destructive tendency
that manifests itself in melancholic grief (Cole 190). Indeed, Satan’s suicidal
despair culminates in line 169, where he states that “Who aspires must down as
low / As high he soared, obnoxious, first or last, exposed / To basest things”
and admits that his plan will recoil back on itself (171-172). This furthermore
reaffirms Satan’s complete awareness of the fact that his complex with rising
to the height of God will land him in the lowest of all regions; Hell. Thus,
Satan’s self-destructive plan further illustrates his melancholy and hand
reflects the blatant rejection of consolation in elegies with complex grief. Moreover,
Satan mentions another component of his plan, which further elucidates his
vehement resistance of consolation; Satan notably proclaims his resolution to
destroy “What he, Almighty styled, six nights and days” (136-137). Indeed, he
goes on to say that along with the downfall of Adam and Eve, “all this will
soon / Follow” (132-133); Therefore, he introduces an even more complex nuance
of grief, as “This,” hereby refers to the Earth, that Satan predicts will be
harmed, as the Fall will inflict a wound on the Earth (9.782)2.
In this way, Satan’s sadism and masochistic tendencies emerge, as his plan is
to harm the very thing that he loves dearly, as it was never created for him
and it was never his to rule over (152-154). Therefore Satan’s obsession with
glory and freedom turns out to supersede his admiration and love for the Earth;
Satan’s mourning is therefore not a natural grief or love for the Earth but the
manifestation of his deep-seated fixation with power. With this complex
configuration of grief, Cole states that, “frequently experienced losses that
are worked through in elegies trigger echoes of old traumas, which the
melancholic has not yet resolved” (Cole 192). Therefore Satan’s “loss” or, as
established before, his realization that the Earth is and never will be his to
inhabit and to enjoy, also elicits an old trauma for Satan, which is his
rebellion against God as the sovereign of the universe. This power complex
manifests itself, for instance, in Satan’s proclamation: “To me shall be the
glory sole among / The infernal Powers” (135). Thus, Satan reveals that he
prefers sovereignty in Hell over servitude in Heaven. His subsequent hyperbolic
boasting about how he managed to turn numerous angels against God (141-144)
only reinforces and further elucidates his underlying trauma. In this way,
consolation is not only impossible in Satan’s soliloquy but it is furthermore
stridently resisted by Satan himself, who is revealed to be a melancholic poet,
whose realization of his future existence without the Earth brings back
unresolved grief.

In conclusion, the progression from the hyperbolic
praise of the Earth, to the lamentation of a future existence without the Earth,
to a strident resistance of consolation that reveals Satan to be a melancholic,
mirrors the components and elements of an elegy, which is why Satan’s soliloquy
can be considered an elegy to the Earth. As has been demonstrated in the
previous paragraphs, Milton imbues Satan with melancholy, which, in the highly-topical
humoral theory of the 17th century was said to be produced by black
bile; Surprisingly, as it relates to the ecological theme of elegies theorized
in this paper, melancholy was considered as the humor that brought humans
closest to the Earth (Morton 253). Nonetheless, one might think that the
ecological aspect of the soliloquy, such as the appreciation of nature, the
fear of separation from the environment as well as Satan’s prediction of the harm
that the Earth would suffer is far too avant-garde for its time, as elegy might
be expected to be a significant mode of contemporary ecological writing because
the consequences of past and present actions on the Earth have become
increasingly evident in modern times (Morton 252). However, this is not the
case, as ecological change is not only a modern day phenomenon but already
persisted in the history of 17th century England, where the destruction
of forests, agricultural changes, mining and the advent of proto-industrial
practices radically altered the English landscape (Hiltner 2). With this in
mind, one might better understand Milton’s conferment of appreciation for the
beauty of the Earth to even the greatest villain and arch nemesis of humanity
and God. However, at the same time, and as established in the analysis of
consolation in the soliloquy, the fact that Satan renounces to live under the conditions
prevailing in Heaven and continuously tries to escape from Hell make him a
“placeless being” that also with regards to the Earth maintains a “subjectivist
position”; hereby Hiltner argues that Satan’s wish to dominate the world
exhibits his perception of “Earth as a place to have and possess,” which
elucidates Satan lack of a natural connection to the Earth (23). Therefore, when
Satan expresses grief over a future prospect without the Earth, he realizes
that “being without place is Hell itself,” and thus the tragedy of Paradise Lost ensues (Hiltner 4).
Indeed, although it seems that Milton portrays Satan as a nature enthusiast in
his soliloquy, he has provided him as warning example to draw attention to the
fact that “humans should be deeply rooted in their place on Earth” (Hiltner
62). However, in response to the wound that Satan would inflict on the Earth
through the temptation of Adam and Eve in Paradise
Lost, Paradise Regained would
introduce a “well-crafted cure” with which the Edenic unity between nature and
humanity could be restored; Christianity (Hiltner 6).

1 It is referenced as Ptolemaic system in the Norton Anthology footnote

2 Paradise
Lost, Book IX, 780-784: So saying, her rash hand in evil hour, / Forth reaching
to the fruit, she plucked, she eat. / Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her
seat / Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe, / That all was lost.

Categories: Traditions


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