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WHEN I beheld the Poet blind, yet bold,
In slender book his vast design unfold;
Yet as I read, soon growing less severe,
Or, if a work so infinite he spann's,
Pardon me, mighty Poet, nor despise
That majesty which through thy work doth reign, Draws the devout, deterring the profane : And things divine thou treat'st of in such state, As them preserves, and thee inviolate. At once delight and horror on us seize, Thou sing'st with so much gravity and ease; And above human flight dost soar aloft, With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft: The bird nam'd from that Paradise you sing So never flags, but always keeps on wing.
Where could'st thou words of such a compass find? Whence furnish such a vast expanse of mind? Just Heav'o thee, like Tiresias, to requite, Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.
Well might'st thou scorn thy readers to allure With tinkling rhyme of thy own sense secure; While the town-bays writes all the while and spells, And, like a pack-horse, tires without his bells : Their fancies like our bushy points appear, The poets tag them, we for fashion wear. I too transported by the mode commend, And while I mean to praise thee must offend. Thy verse created like thy theme sublime, In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme.
ARGUMENT. This first book proposes first in brief) the whole subject,
Man's disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise wherein he was placed ; then touches the prime cause of his fall--the Serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent; who, revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of Angels, was, by the command of God, driven out of Heaven, with all his crew, into the great deep. Which action passed over, the poem hastes into the midst of things; presenting Satan with bis Angels now fallen into Hell, described here not in the centre (for Heaven and Earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed,) but in a place of utter dark. ness, fitliest called Chaos: Here Satan, with his Angels lying on the burning lake thander-struck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him; they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then ju the same manner confounded : they rise, their numbers, array of battle, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan, and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech; comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven; but tells them, lastly, of a new world and new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in Heaven; (for that Angels were long before this visible creation was the opinion of many ancient Fathers.) To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, be refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandemonium, the palace of Satan, rises, suddenly built out of the deep; the infernal peers there sit in council.
Man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
5 Sing, heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed, In the beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth Rose out of Chaos! Or, if Sion hill
10 Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook, that flow'd Fast by the oracle of God; I thence Invoke thy aid to my advent'rous song, That with no middle flight intends to soar Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues 15 Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. And chiefly Thou, O Spi'rit that dost prefer Before all temples th' upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know'st ; Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread, 20 Dove-like, sat'st brooding on the vast abyss, And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark, Illumine; what is low, raise and support; That to the beight of this great argument .