John Milton , Satan

Conforming to the conventions of epic poetry and rushing “into the midst of things,” Paradise Lost (1667) opens by evoking a spectacle of horror combined with grandeur: Milton’s reader watches as Satan and his legions of rebellious angels, vanquished in their battle with God and already cast from Heaven down to Hell, try to recover from their disastrous loss and begin to plot their revenge. For the eighteenth-century writer Edmund Burke, the portrait that Milton draws of Satan at this moment, one when the fallen angel as yet retains traces of his heavenly glory, was the most sublime descriptive passage in all of poetry.

* * *

                                            He above the rest
 In shape and gesture proudly eminent
 Stood like a tower. His form had yet not lost
 All her original brightness, nor appeared
 Less than archangel ruined, and th' excess
 Of glory obscured: as when the sun new-risen
 Looks through the horizontal misty air
 Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
 In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
 On half the nations, and with fear of change
 Perplexes monarchs. Darkened so, yet shone
 Above them all th' archangel; but his face
 Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
 Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows
 Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride
 Waiting revenge. Cruel his eye, but cast
 Signs of remorse and passion to behold
 The fellows of his crime , the followers rather
 (Far other once beheld in bliss), condemned
 Forever now to have their lot in pain.

— From Paradise Lost 1.589–608 (1667)

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