Austen Saunders

Discovering Poetry

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Last week was Shelley, here’s this week’s Discovering Poetry excerpt:

Now I’d be willing to wage at least a fiver that in the last twenty-four hours you passed on the street a nice young couple walking happily hand-in-hand. Nauseating, isn’t it? But also the most natural thing in the world. There seems to me something very touching about such modest affection. Little in itself, but enough to mean the world when done rightly. Between lovers, between a mother and her child, or in the softly squeezed hand of a friend in grief.

It’s with this most everyday act of human love that Milton ends Paradise Lost. As Adam and Eve are being expelled from Eden, they are told that God has a plan to eventually return mankind to an even greater paradise in heaven. But you don’t need to be a card-carrying Christian to be moved by these last lines. All you need to do is hold on to that image of two people alone in all the world but still with each other – and be inspired by their ability to believe that such little acts of love can be enough to make them a part of a universe of extraordinary beauty and moral possibility.

And then next time you see a teenage couple holding hands, recognise that act as one with a history that stretches behind us to Eden and head of us for as long as people love.

So spake our mother Eve , and Adam heard

Well pleased, but answered not; for now too nigh

The archangel stood, and from the other hill

To their fixt station, all in bright array

The cherubim descended; on the ground

Gliding meteorous, as evening mist

Risen from a river over the marish glides,

And gathers ground fast at the labourers heel

Homeward returning. High in front advanced,

The brandisht sword of God before them blazed

Fierce as a comet; which with torrid heat,

And vapour as the Libyan air adust,

Began to parch that temperate clime; whereat

In either hand the hastening angel caught

Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate

Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast

To the subjected plain; then disappeared.

They looking back, all the eastern side beheld

Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,

Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate

With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:

Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:

They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,

Through Eden took their solitary way.