Satiation in John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World:: 8 Works Cited
Length: 2795 words (8 double-spaced pages)
Hell is huge but it isn’t big enough. Within the text of Paradise Lost by John Milton, it is, A universe of death, which God by curse Created evil, for evil only good,Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds,Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,Abominable, inutterable, and worse… (II.622-6)There is no satiety in Hell. Eden, by comparison, is a relatively small place in Milton’s epic poem, but it seems to be an environment replete with satisfaction. Or is it? We students of experiential literature owe Milton a debt of gratitude for helping us to experience our forebears’, that is Adam and Eve’s, lack of satiation within a paradisiacal environment. This paper will explore the topic of satiety within that environment; and, along the way, discuss the concept of singularity found in Cavendish’s Blazing World for comment upon that satiation.
Milton begins at the middle of his epic with an appeal to music, a universal and fulfilling language, “Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing Heavenly Muse” (I.5-6).He immediately places us after the fall and takes us beyond sentience with an invocation to a muse, only this muse is beyond all muses and this epic is above all epics:
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 Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme. (I.12-16)
Milton establishes himself as the legitimate teller of the tale – and this tale will take us beyond the mythology of the Greeks’Aonian Mount and inoculate us against Hell’s prodigiousness. He is taking us beyond mythological or explanatory pictures of ourselves, to an area where we may bask in a greater comfort:
Taught by the Heav’nly Muse to venture down The dark descent, and up to reascend,
Though hard and rare: thee I revisit safe,And feel thy sovran vital lamp… (III.19-22)
In her note to the reader in The Description of A New World, Called The Blazing World, it is evident that Margaret Cavendish seeks to take us beyond mere studious thoughts, to a place sated with fancy:
And this is the reason, why I added this piece of fancy to my philosophical observations, and joined them as two worlds at the ends of their poles;
both for my own sake, to divert my studious thoughts, which I employed in the contemplation thereof, and to delight the reader with variety, which is always pleasing.
Cavendish, too, takes us into a fantastical epic designed to take us beyond philosophical meandering – her romantic epic should take us to a place where we may bask in the light of Margaret Cavendish. She explains that, “… I am not covetous, but as ambitious as ever any of my sex was, is, or can be; which makes, that though I cannot be Henry the Fifth, or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First…” (124). She like Eve sees herself in a reflection pool, “ … I thither went / With unexperienced thought [my emphasis], and laid me down / On the green bank, to look into the clear / Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky” (IV.456-9). Cavendish’s Duchess and Empress, however, must interpret the reflection through the turbulent ripples of restoration.
Adam, like the Empress in the Blazing World, wants to reflect a little beyond the surfeit of his own environment. After Epicurean discussions with the angel Raphael, Adam states a desire for variety, “to know / Of things above his world, and of their being” (V.454-5). And this is after he has tasted and commented upon Eve’s dinner:
unsavory food perhaps To spiritual natures; only this I know, That one Celestial Father gives to all. (V.401-3)
It is apparent that Adam is not sated in paradise. He wants to know more, and he even grovels before Raphael:
Inhabitant with God, now know I well Thy favor, in this honor done to man, Under whose lowly roof thou hast vouchsafed To enter, and these earthly fruits to taste, Food not of angels, yet accepted so,As that more willingly thou couldst not seem At heaven’s high feasts to have fed: yet what compare? (V.461-7)
Adam wants to know of things beyond his capacity, his satiability, yet he is also soliciting Raphael’s approval. According to Russell E. Smith Jr., “yet what compare?” could be read as Adam’s statement that “Our best dinner isn’t good enough,” and that statement could be an unconscious reach for the answer, “Of course it is” (531).
Smith states that Adam’s intellectual appetite to perceive the ways of the angels is “intemperate, even gluttonous.” He also states that satiation should have God as its motive; desire for knowledge as “a means of elevating the self is perverse” (528 & 529). We should consider Adam’s perverse motive if, in fact, “yet what compare?” is his attempt to fish for a compliment. While Adam has a difficult time being “lowly wise,” the Empress from the Blazing World seems to be able to stay within herself. She states to the ape-men regarding transmutations in nature, “I will not have you take more pains and waste your time in such fruitless [my emphasis] attempts, but be wiser hereafter, and busy yourselves with such experiments as may be beneficial to the public” (155).
The Empress may have an insatiable desire to know, but she is not perverse and she is interested in a greater good. Cavendish may be her own source of illumination, but there is more than self-aggrandizement going on here. In her “weakness” as a woman she is strong. As a royalist who has lost much to civil dispute, she is able to thrust her singular soft light through the colorful Tiffany shade of the Restoration – thus amplifying the color and the poignancy of her critique on that culture. The need for a little color, a little female perspective, turns a dull glow into a bright though soft blaze – and our appetite for a greater spectrum is sated.
The spectrum of Cavendish’s fantasy broadens through one of the Empress’ many conversations with the worm-men of the Blazing World:
The worm-men comforted the Empress, telling her, that the Earth was not so horrid a dwelling, as she did imagine; for, said they, not only all minerals and vegetables, but several sorts of animals can witness, that the earth is a warm, fruitful [my emphasis], quiet, safe and happy habitation; and though they want the light of the sun, yet are they not in dark, but there is light even within the earth, by which those creatures do see that dwell therein. (179)
Cavendish uses “masque-like displays of light, illusion and voice to create these apparently miraculous shows, sharing the masque’s manipulation of nature” (Wood 295). Whether the light in the above citation is the light of a sovereign or a sun, it works in assisting a greater utopian experience of cooperative fruitfulness.
There is a type of utopian symbiotic fulfillment in Eden between Adam and the sun:
As new-waked from soundest sleep Soft on the flow’ry herb I found me laid
In balmy sweat, which with his beams the sun Soon dried, and on the reeking moisture fed. (VIII.253-6)
The word “reeking” in this passage should not connote stench, rather the sense that both Adam and the sun are creatures mutually dependent upon one another. According to Geoffrey Hartman, “If it (the sun) feeds on man’s sweat it is because Milton wished to emphasize the conjunction of highest and lowest, of an ethereal body and creaturely functions. The meridian sun participates in creation like an animal tending its new-born” (170). The worm-men in the Blazing World would appreciate this codependence; however, a discussion between the Duchess and the Empress in the Blazing World could serve as a cautionary note to both Adam and Eve. Says the Duchess to the Empress, “I perceive that the greatest happiness in all worlds consist in moderation.” And the Empress responds, “No doubt of it” (190-1). In the Blazing World, there is satiation in moderation.
Listen to the procreative excess in Eden:
Him through the spicy forest onward come Adam discerned, as in the door he sat Of his cool bow’r, while now the mounted sun Shot down direct his fervid rays, to warm
Earth’s inmost womb, more warmth than Adam needs. (V.298-302)
The phrase “more warmth than Adam needs” leaves the reader with the idea that even the sun is prepared to satiate Adam, and overflow into his domain of Eden. The creature’s inability to understand a creation of such excess even takes an immoderate trajectory beyond Eden and into the cosmos, as Eve questions Adam regarding the stars, “But wherefore all night long shine these, for whom / This glorious sight, when sleep hath shut all eyes?” (IV.657-8). As the sun has more warmth than Adam needs, so heaven has a greater glory than Eve can understand (Hartman 171). Eden is not big enough for Eve, and she must turn her insatiable curiosity heavenward – and then to a forbidden fruit.
The Empress of the Blazing World also has flirtations beyond her immediate locality and corporeal reality. She disregards her previous embrace of moderation during an ambitious statement on government and its benefits, “It is not impossible to conquer a world” (185). We are reminded of Raphael’s admonition to Adam regarding the rogue who will “excite their minds with more desire to know” as the spirits warn the Empress that, “conquerors seldom enjoy their conquest, for they being more feared than loved, most commonly come to an untimely end” (185). And this is where the Empress’ fancy becomes intoxicating, for she and the Duchess conspire to “reject and despise all the worlds without me, and create a world of my own … then I shall be mistress of two worlds, one within, and the other without me” (186). The Empress is squatting like a toad in the Duchess’ ear, and we can only hope she has the caritas motives of God and king instead of the cupiditas motives of me and myself.
The Empress’ exercise in fancy takes on a Satan-like aura, for he also insidiously conspired to conquer another world beyond his princely realm - Eden. Indeed he and his minions boldly state, “Our pussiance is our own, our own right hand / Shall teach us highest deeds” (V.864-5). Similarly, Satan “gets inside his own fancy” and that fancy produces the inflamed thought of Sin. Sin addresses Satan and proclaims of herself, “Out of thy head I sprung” (II.758). And we should officiate our fancies, for the more ambitious ones may be steeped in futility and even lead to Death:
Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing Becam’st enamored, and such joy thou took’st
With me in secret, that my womb conceived A growing burden. (II.764-7)
In keeping with head games, we should pursue the topic of carnal pleasure. It is with Cavendish that we find the opportunity to conjoin the ingredients of romance and obligation as inextricable of one another and useful in serving a singular cause – sovereignty (Kahn 560 & 561). It should not be forgotten that the pulse, the romance, of the Blazing World is established from the beginning of the fancy, for it begins with an abduction. While the erotic imagery may not be graphic in 21st century terms, the implied imagery is seared into the reader’s mind and our curiosity is aroused – we want more.
Kahn remarks in her essay on Cavendish’s The Contract, “Her goal was to use romance’s representation of the passions in order to quench passion or, at the very least, to redirect erotic passion to political obligation” (547). That singular goal is evident in The Blazing World in a scene in which The Duchess and the Empress visit the castle at Nottinghamshire. Cavendish writes, “…when the Duchess’ soul perceived [the Duke], she was so overjoyed, that her aerial vehicle became so splendorous, as if it had been enlightened by the sun” (194). After this rapturous salutation, we are treated to another significant corporeal/ethereal interlude as the Duchess laments the Duke’s choice of “exercise of the sword” and resultant “overheated” condition. In unbridled passion, the Duchess “without any consideration of the Empress’ soul, left her aerial vehicle, and entered into her lord. The Empress’ soul perceiving this, did the like: and then the Duke had three souls in one body” (194). There is a threat here of a nonsingular tryst, of going beyond satiation; however, Cavendish deals with it summarily:
But the Duke’s soul being wise, honest, witty, complaisant and noble, afforded such delight and pleasure to the Empress’ soul by her conver-sation, that these two souls became enamoured of each other; which the Duchess’ soul perceiving, grew jealous at first, but then considering that no adultery could be committed amongst Platonic lovers … cast forth of her mind that idea of jealousy. (194 & 195)
In order to more completely imbibe in the satiation of corporeal, incorporeal, and sovereignty we must again refer to Kahn, “…romance in Cavendish’s work is the motor and motive of narrative: the narrative of coming to understand one’s obligations as willed – not as a matter of self-preservation but of fantasy, desire, and self-fulfillment” (556).
If Adam and Eve had recognized a little Cavendishian singularity, they may have remained “Imparadised in one another’s arms” (IV.506). Adam and Eve were each originally “imparadised” in a unique singularity between a procreative sovereign, a singular self, and a soul mate, “I now see / Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, my self / Before me” (VIII.494-6). And the eroticism which existed between Adam and Eve solidified the procreative pact between sovereign God, Adam, and Adam’s other self, that is Eve:
Handed they went; and eased the putting off These troublesome disguises which we wear,
Straight side by side were laid, nor turned I ween Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites Mysterious of connubial love refused:
Whatever hypocrites austerely talk Of purity and place and innocence,Defaming as impure what God declares Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all. (IV.739-48)
According to Roland Mushat Frye, the Puritans of Milton’s day regarded the legitimate rites of the connubial bed as cohesive,“In general, their fear was of an immoderate love, whose very violence precluded it from maintaining the stability necessary for the marriage relationship, and whose intensity of attachment was likely to burn itself out and die” (156). The insatiability of lust is extinguished when God sates an informed appetite. Paradise is not about abstinence; it does not expect its tenants to “pine with vain desire” (IV.466)
During one of the Empress’ many interrogations of the spirits, she asked how both spirits and men fell from a previously blessed state into such a contemporary miserable one. The spirits responded, “By disobedience” (178). My conviction is that obedience distills the fruit of paradise and arouses a desire for the satiability of paradise’s blaze – and it simultaneously illumines the insatiability of postlapsarian Eden. The leer and wantonness that accompanies postlapsarian sex is not the result of a lack of provision of God-ordained rites and privileges in a prelapsarian environment; it is the result of wanting to be sated beyond our ability for satiation, of a questioning of obedience. Adam is perplexed by this and comments upon it after one of Raphael’s edifying conversations:
And sweeter thy discourse is to my ear Of sweet repast; they satiate, and soon fill,Though pleasant, but thy words with grace divine Imbued, bring to their sweetness no satiety. (VIII.211, 214-6)
Unfortunately, Adam had to experience the loss of paradise before these words could bring him satiety. Fortunately, as he leaves paradise, he learned how to be “lowly wise” and he has Eve to hold on to as he leaves us all with a valuable testimony:
Greatly instructed I shall thence depart,Greatly in peace of thought, and have my fill
Of knowledge, what this vessel can contain; Beyond which was my folly to aspire. (XII.557-60)
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Lilley, Kate. Ed. The Blazing World And Other Writings. New York: Penguin Group, 1994. 119-230.
Frye, Roland Mushat. “The Teachings of Classical Puritanism on Conjugal Love.”
Studies in the Renaissance. 2 (1955): 148-159.
Hartman, Geoffrey. “Adam On The Grass With Balsamum.” ELH. 36.1 (March, 1969):
Kahn, Victoria. “Margaret Cavendish and the Romance of Contract.” Renaissance
Quarterly. 50.2 (Summer, 1997): 526-66.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Scott Elledge. Norton Critical ed. New York: W.W.
Norton & Co., 1993.
Smith, Russell E., Jr. “Adam’s Fall.” ELH. 35.4 (Dec., 1968): 527-39.
Wood, Tanya Caroline. “The Fall and Rise of Absolutism: Margaret Cavendish’s
Manipulation of Masque Conventions in ‘The Claspe: Fantasmes Masque’and The Blazing World.” In-Between: Essays & Studies In Literary Criticism. 9.1&2 (2000): 287-99.