Allen Ginsberg and Tom Schwartz on John Milton – 7

Charles Grignon after Francis Hayman, (1749) illustration to Book IX of John Milton’s Paradise Lost

AG: So, the question is, what are we going to do with this big clunky Paradise Lost. I’d like to read a page and then turn it over to someone else to read some more. But, oratory, as oratory – “The Argument” – will somebody read “The Argument” here of Book 9. (The “Argument” here means, “this is the plot”..So,  page three-twenty-seven. The reason I’d like to begin.. to read the beginning pages at least is, he does take up, again, the subject of inspiration in poetry.  Somebody read the plot. Who can read?  You, Tom?

TS: “Satan, having compassed the Earth, with meditated guile returns, as a mist, by night into Paradise; enters into the Serpent sleeping. Adam and Eve in the morning go forth to their labours, which Eve proposes to divide in several places, each labouring apart: Adam consents not, alleging the danger, lest that enemy, of whom they were warned, should attempt her found alone” – [to attempt her, found alone] – “Eve, loth to be thought not circumspect or firm enough, urges her going apart, the rather desirous to make trial of her strength; Adam at last yields: The Serpent finds her alone; his subtle approach, first gazing, then speaking; with much flattery extolling Eve above all other creatures. Eve, wondering to hear the Serpent speak, asks how he attained human speech, and such understanding, not till now; the Serpent answers, that by tasting of a certain tree in the garden he attained both speech and reason, till then void of both: Eve requires him to bring her to that tree, and finds it to be the tree of knowledge forbidden: The Serpent, now grown bolder, with many wiles and arguments, induces her at length to eat; she, pleased with the taste, deliberates a while whether to impart to Adam or not; at last brings him of the fruit; relates what persuaded her to eat thereof: Adam, at first amazed, but perceiving her lost, resolves, through vehemence of love, to perish with her: and, extenuating the trespass, eats also of the fruit: The effects thereof in them both; they seek to cover their nakedness; then fall to variance and accusation of one another”.

AG: Well, actually, it’s a pretty interesting shot. In other words, Milton’s going to re-tell the story of the relation between men and women – and who did it first! – you know, and who wanted it most, and who seduced who, and who was on top, so to speak, and who grabbed first. And so it’s this psychological.. well, it’s “the battle of the sexes”  he’s going to lay out. So this is his version of it, and it’s interesting  from that point of view. It’s like using  the story of the forbidden fruit to lay his trip on.. his sex trip on,  everybody – I mean, to explain his particular humor.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-five minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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