unknown modes of being

Scavella excerpts in the comments to yesterday’s post on Wordsworth lines 351 – 400 of the first book of his Prelude. I’ve repeated them below, because they are stunning and keep dragging you back to them. A  lot going on, but two sections I found particularly compelling:

for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness

and:

But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

They made me think of this from The Second Coming:

a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs

And this from Paradise Lost:

Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan

The common linkage in my mind is something like that spiritus mundi thing Yeats went on about (although I’m guessing both Wordsworth and Milton would argue with that).

Anyhow, here’s the excerpt (thanks, Scavella!):

One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,–
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

– William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book I, l. 351-400

a jangling noise of words unknown

That’s Book 12, l. 55. I didn’t find myself gripped by much else in this last book.  After all the excitement of Book 10 and previous, Book 11 began a trend towards the ho-hum and Book 12 defnitely consolidated it.

(No more Lucifer, of course, which probably explains it.)

So that’s it for boring endless posts with great chunks of Paradise Lost.

Thank you for your patience.

all the cataracts of Heav’n

More grist for the brilliant movie mill. Here’s the Flood:

Meanwhile the Southwind rose, and with black wings
Wide hovering, all the Clouds together drove
From under Heav’n; the Hills to their supplie
Vapour, and Exhalation dusk and moist,
Sent up amain; and now the thick’nd Skie
Like a dark Ceeling stood; down rush’d the Rain
Impetuous, and continu’d till the Earth
No more was seen

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 738-745

dæmoniac phrenzie, moaping melancholie

Not sure whether this is funny or wonderful, or both. One of the many and varied of scenes of future human misery Michael lays out for Adam. It reads like an engraving from the Inferno. Kind of.

Immediately a place
Before his eyes appeard, sad, noysom, dark,
A Lazar-house it seemd, wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseas’d, all maladies
Of gastly Spasm, or racking torture, qualmes
Of heart-sick Agonie, all feavorous kinds,
Convulsions, Epilepsies, fierce Catarrhs,
Intestin Stone and Ulcer, Colic pangs,
Dæmoniac Phrenzie, moaping Melancholie
And Moon-struck madness, pining Atrophie
Marasmus and wide-wasting Pestilence,
Dropsies, and Asthma’s, and Joint-racking Rheums.
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 477-488

his bright appearances

Adam and Eve have been told by Michael that they’re being evicted from Eden, where they had hoped to be able to live out their disgrace, although in deep disgrace. Here’s Adam prefiguring multi-layered nostalgia, just too aching:

here I could frequent,
With worship, place by place where he voutsaf’d
Presence Divine, and to my Sons relate;
On this Mount he appeerd, under this Tree
Stood visible, among these Pines his voice
I heard, here with him at this Fountain talk’d:
So many grateful Altars I would reare
Of grassie Terfe, and pile up every Stone
Of lustre from the brook, in memorie,
Or monument to Ages, and thereon
Offer sweet smelling Gumms and Fruits and Flours:
In yonder nether World where shall I seek
His bright appearances, or foot step-trace?
For though I fled him angrie, yet recall’d
To life prolongd and promisd Race, I now
Gladly behold though but his utmost skirts
Of glory, and farr off his steps adore.

Paradise Lost, Book 11, l. 317-333

a dreadful din of hissing

Satan morphing into a serpent (brings to mind more Narnia — The Silver Chair, the scene in which the Lady of the Green Kirtle does the same in a bid to stop Rilian/Caspian et al escaping the underworld):

he wonderd, but not long
Had leasure, wondring at himself now more;
His Visage drawn he felt to sharp and spare,
His Armes clung to his Ribs, his Leggs entwining
Each other, till supplanted down he fell
A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone,

                                  Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 509 – 514

And so they all become snakes — again, a wonderfully cinematic moment: 

he would have spoke,
But hiss for hiss returnd with forked tongue
To forked tongue, for now were all transform’d
Alike, to Serpents all as accessories
To his bold Riot: dreadful was the din
Of hissing through the Hall, thick swarming now
With complicated monsters head and taile,

                            Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 517 – 523

And here’s Hamlet’s to-be-or-not-to-be speech (Milton was 16 when Shakespeare died, by the way — I had to look that one up) from a miserable Adam:

That dust I am, and shall to dust returne:
O welcom hour whenever! why delayes
His hand to execute what his Decree
Fixd on this day? why do I overlive,
Why am I mockt with death, and length’nd out
To deathless pain? how gladly would I meet
Mortalitie my sentence, and be Earth
Insensible, how glad would lay me down
As in my Mothers lap! There I should rest
And sleep secure; his dreadful voice no more
Would Thunder in my ears, no fear of worse
To mee and to my ofspring would torment me
With cruel expectation. Yet one doubt
Pursues me still, least all I cannot die,
Least that pure breath of Life, the Spirit of Man
Which God inspir’d, cannot together perish [ 785 ]
With this corporeal Clod; then in the Grave,
Or in some other dismal place who knows
But I shall die a living Death? O thought
Horrid, if true!

Paradise Lost, Bk 10 l. 770 – 789

nature gave a second groan

Another great description of the natural world’s visceral reaction to bad humans eating forbidden fruit. This moment, when Adam eats, and the earlier one, when Eve eats, would be fantastic in a movie. Something like that freaky bit in The Mummy, when the sand suddenly sighs creepily and flips itself around. (These would obviously be thicker greener fruitier moments, but you get the idea.)

Earth trembl’d from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,
Skie lowr’d, and muttering Thunder, som sad drops
Wept at compleating of the mortal Sin
Original.

Paradise Lost, Bk. 9, l. 1000-1005

Cain

CAIN. Ah! didst thou tempt my mother?

LUCIFER. I tempt none,
Save with the truth: was not the Tree, the Tree
Of Knowledge? and was not the Tree of Life
Still fruitful? Did I bid her pluck them not?
Did I plant things prohibited within
The reach of beings innocent, and curious
By their own innocence?

Cain: A Mystery, George Gordon, Lord Byron, Act I, Scene i

Narnia in Paradise Lost in Narnia in Paradise Lost

Remember this scene in The Magician’s Nephew?

The grassie Clods now Calv’d, now half appeer’d
The Tawnie Lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from Bonds,
And Rampant shakes his Brinded main; the Ounce,
The Libbard, and the Tyger, as the Moale
Rising, the crumbl’d Earth above them threw
In Hillocks; the swift Stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head: scarse from his mould
Behemoth biggest born of Earth upheav’d
His vastness:

                                                                Paradise Lost, Bk 7, l. 463-473

Remember this scene in Paradise Lost?

“Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot? For that is really the best description of what was happening. In all directions it was swelling into humps. They were of very different sizes, some no bigger than mole-hills, some as big as wheel-barrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps moved and swelled till they burst, and the crumbled earth poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal. The moles came out just as you might see a mole come out in England. The dogs came out, barking the moment their heads were free, and struggling as you’ve seen them do when they are getting through a narrow hole in a hedge. The stags were the queerest to watch, for of course the antlers came up a long time before the rest of them, so at first Digory thought they were trees. The frogs, who all came up near the river, went straight into it with a plop-plop and a loud croaking. The panthers, leopards and things of that sort, sat down at once to wash the loose earth off their hind quarters and then stood up against the trees to sharpen their front claws. Showers of birds came out of the trees. Butterflies fluttered. Bees got to work on the flowers as if they hadn’t a second to lose. But the greatest moment of all was when the biggest hump broke like a small earthquake and out came the sloping back, the large, wise head, and the four baggy-trousered legs of an elephant. And now you could hardly hear the song of the Lion; there was so much cawing, cooing, crowing, braying, neighing, baying, barking, lowing, bleating, and trumpeting.”

                                                The Magician’s Nephew, Ch 9: “The Founding of Narnia”

mountains hurled by angels

The whole description of the battle in Book 6 is fabulous, but this, when the angels start hurling mountains, is just the best:

Light as the Lightning glimps they ran, they flew,
From thir foundations loosning to and fro
They pluckt the seated Hills with all thir load,
Rocks, Waters, Woods, and by the shaggie tops
Up lifting bore them in thir hands: Amaze,
Be sure, and terrour seis’d the rebel Host,
When coming towards them so dread they saw
The bottom of the Mountains upward turn’d,
Till on those cursed Engins triple-row
They saw them whelm’d, and all thir confidence
Under the weight of Mountains buried deep,
Themselves invaded next, and on thir heads
Main Promontories flung, which in the Air
Came shadowing, and opprest whole Legions arm’d,
Thir armor help’d thir harm, crush’t in and bruis’d
Into thir substance pent, which wrought them pain
Implacable, and many a dolorous groan,
Long strugling underneath, ere they could wind
Out of such prison, though Spirits of purest light,
Purest at first, now gross by sinning grown.
The rest in imitation to like Armes
Betook them, and the neighbouring Hills uptore;
So Hills amid the Air encounterd Hills
Hurl’d to and fro with jaculation dire,
That under ground, they fought in dismal shade;
Infernal noise; Warr seem’d a civil Game
To this uproar; horrid confusion heapt
Upon confusion rose

Paradise Lost, Bk 6, l. 642-669

(Remembering Typhon here, another mountain-hurling super-creation, featured on this very blog a while back.)

just gross

Descriptions of Sin from Book II of Paradise Lost:

The one seem’d Woman to the waste, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fould
Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm’d
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark’d
With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturb’d thir noyse, into her woomb,
And kennel there, yet there still bark’d and howl’d
Within unseen.

(l. 650-659)

Alone, but long I sat not, till my womb
Pregnant by thee, and now excessive grown
Prodigious motion felt and rueful throes.
At last this odious offspring whom thou seest
Thine own begotten, breaking violent way
Tore through my entrails, that with fear and pain
Distorted, all my nether shape thus grew
Transform’d: but he my inbred enemie
Forth issu’d, brandishing his fatal Dart
Made to destroy: I fled, and cry’d out Death;
Hell trembl’d at the hideous Name, and sigh’d
From all her Caves, and back resounded Death.
I fled, but he pursu’d (though more, it seems,
Inflam’d with lust then rage) and swifter far,
Mee overtook his mother all dismaid,
And in embraces forcible and foule
Ingendring with me, of that rape begot
These yelling Monsters that with ceasless cry
Surround me, as thou sawst, hourly conceiv’d
And hourly born, with sorrow infinite
To me, for when they list into the womb
That bred them they return, and howle and gnaw
My Bowels, thir repast; then bursting forth
A fresh with conscious terrours vex me round,
That rest or intermission none I find.

(l. 778 -802)

Just viscerally awful in every possible way.

Rob is reading Paradise Lost this month and posting about it both on his blog and here. I’m kind of sort of reading along (but not making any promises about getting all the way there).

This is very difficult stuff not to read aloud very loudly, I must say.

Here’s my favorite bit today — Lucifer being all haughty with Death:

Whence and what art thou, execrable shape,
That dar’st, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated Front athwart my way
To yonder Gates? through them I mean to pass,
That be assured, without leave askt of thee

(l. 681-685)

Can’t get away from comparing Milton’s Lucifer to Byron’s in Cain. It’s been more than a couple of decades since I read the latter, but I seem to recall Byron’s Lucifer as more complex (both emotionally and intellectually) and therefore more attractive.  Which I suppose is what you might expect, given the 150-odd years between them. Here’s a Lucifer speech from Cain, for example.