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What thou command'st; and right thou shouldst be
obey'd : I was at first as other beasts that graze The trodden herb, of abject thoughts and low, As was my food; nor aught but food discern'd Or sex, and apprehended nothing high: Till, on a day roving the field, I chanc'd A goodly tree far distant to behold Loaden with fruit of fairest colours mix'd, Ruddy and gold: I nearer drew to gaze; When from the boughs a savoury odour blown, Grateful to appetite, more pleas'd my sense Than smell of sweetest fennel, or the teats Of ewe or goat dropping with milk at even, "Unsuck'd of lamb or kid, that tend their play. To satisfy the sharp desire I had Of tasting those fair apples, I resolv'd Not to defer; hunger and thirst at once, Powerful persuaders, quicken'd at the scent Of that alluring fruit, urg'd me so keen. About the mossy trunk I wound me soon ; For, high from ground, the branches would require Thy utmost reach or Adam's: Round the tree All other beasts that saw, with like desire Longing and envying stood, but could not reach. Amid the tree now got, where plenty hung Tempting so nigh, to pluck and eat my fill I spar'd not; for, such pleasure till that hour,
At feed or fountain, never had I found.
Sated at length, ere long I might perceive
Strange alteration in me, to degree
Of reason in my inward powers; and speech
Wanted not long; though to this shape retain'd.
Thenceforth to speculations high or deep
I turn’d my thoughts, and with capacious mind
Consider'd all things visible in Heaven,
Or Earth, or Middle; all things fair and good :
But all that fair and good in thy divine
Semblance, and in thy beauty's heavenly ray,
United I beheld; no fair to thine
Equivalent or second! which compellid
Me thus, though importune perhaps, to come
And gaze, and worship thee of right declar'd
Sovran of creatures, universal Dame !
So talk'd the spirited sly Snake; and Eve,
Yet more amaz’d, unwary thus replied.
Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The virtue of that fruit, in thee first prov'd:
But say, where grows the tree? from hence how far?
For many are the trees of God that
In Paradise, and various, yet unknown
To us; in such abundance lies our choice,
As leaves a greater store of fruit untouch'd,
Still hanging incorruptible, till men
Grow up to their provision, and more hands
Help to disburden Nature of her birth.
To whom the wily Adder, blithe and glad.
Empress, the way is ready, and not long;
Beyond a row of myrtles, on a flat,
Fast by a fountain, one small thicket past
Of blowing myrrh and balm : if thou accept
My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon,
Lead then, said Eve, He, leading, swiftly rolld
In tangles, and made intricate seem straight,
To mischief swift. Hope elevates, and joy
Brightens his crest ; as when a wandering fire,
Compact of unctuous vapour, which the night
Condenses, and the cold environs round,
Kindled through agitation to a flame,
Which oft, they say, some evil Spirit attends,
Hovering and blazing with delusive light,
Misleads the amaz’d night-wanderer from his way
To bogs and mires, and oft through pond or pool;
There swallow'd up and lost, from succour far,
So glister'd the dire Snake, and into fraud
Led Eve, our credulous mother, to the tree
Of prohibition, root of all our woe;
Which when she saw, thus to her guide she spake.
Serpent, we might have spar'd our coming hither Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess, The credit of whose virtue rest with thee; Wonderous indeed, if cause of such effects, But of this tree we may not taste nor touch; God so commanded, and left that command
Sole daughter of his voice; the rest, we live
Law to ourselves; our reason is our law.
To whom the Tempter guilefully replied."
Indeed! hath God then said that of the fruit
Of all these garden-trees ye shall not eat,
Yet Lords declar'd of all in earth or air?
To whom thus Eve, yet sinless. Of the fruit Of each tree in the garden we may eat; But of the fruit of this fair tree amidst The garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die. She scarce had said, though brief, when now
more bold The Tempter, but with show of zeal and love To Man, and indignation at his wrong, New part puts on; and, as to passion mov’d, Fluctuates disturb'd, yet comely and in act Rais’d, as of some great matter to begin. As when of old some orator renown's, In Athens or Free Rome, where eloquence Flourish’d, since mute! to some great cause address’d, Stood in himself collected; while each part, Motion, eaeh act, won audience ere the tongue; Sometimes in highth began, as no delay Of preface brooking, through his zeal of right: So standing, moving, or to highth up grown, The Tempter, all impassion'd, thus began.
O sacred, wise, and wisdom-giving plant, Mother of science ! now I feel thy power
Within me clear; not only to discern
Things in their causes, but to trace the ways
Of highest agents, deem'd however wise.
Queen of this universe! do not believe
Those rigid threats of death : ye shall not die:
How should you? by the fruit ? it gives you life
To knowledge; by the threatener? look on me,
Me, who have touch'd and tasted; yet both live, ? And life more perfect have attain'd than Fate
Meant me, by venturing higher than my lot.
Shall that be shut to Man, which to the Beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass ? and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain
Of death denounc'd, whatever thing death be,
Deterr'd not from achieving what might lead
To happier life, knowledge of good and evil;
Of good, how just; of evil, if what is evil
Be real, why not known, since easier shun'd?
God therefore cannot hurt ye, and be just;
Not just, not God; not fear'd then, nor obey'd :
Your fear itself of death removes the fear.
Why then was this forbid ? Why, but to awe;
Why, but to keep ye low and ignorant,
His worshippers ? He knows that in the day
Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear,
Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then
Open’d and clear’d, and ye shall be as Gods,