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

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

4 thoughts on “a dreadful din of hissing”

  1. It’s sort of odd hearing you say that Milton keeps reminding you of C.S. Lewis. I know what you mean, but it sounds so topsy-turvy. Lewis of course was renowned as a scholar and professor of English lit; and he wrote an entire book (it’s actually a compilation of lectures) called “A Preface to Paradise Lost.” So it’s not surprising that his tale echoes Milton’s (though I find Narnia almost unreadable), but wouldn’t it make more sense to say, “I see where Lewis got his…”?

  2. But Milton does keep reminding me of C.S. Lewis! Don’t be so cross, Richard. I know perfectly well that Milton is centuries older in actual time. He just isn’t older in the chronology of my reading experience. Is it really that annoying?

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