Study Guide

Paradise Lost Innocence

By John Milton

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Book 4

"Flours of all hue, and without thorn the rose" (4.256)

One mark of the purity and innocence of Paradise is the fact that the rose is "without thorn." Notice, however, that the only way Milton (and, by extension, his readers) can conceive of the rose is in terms of its one thorn (even if just to say that it doesn't have one). It is almost as if the fallen version of the rose is the only one we can ever know.

"Nor those mysterious parts were then concealed:
Then was not guilty shame, dishonest shame
Of nature's works, honor dishonorable" (4.312-14)

Milton reminds us that in Paradise Adam and Eve walked around naked, but he also seems to criticize his own, contemporary cultural practices, referring to them as "dishonest shame […] honor dishonorable." Does Milton think people should walk around naked? Not really, but he implies that the fuss made about "mysterious parts" is misguided.


"And should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I do" (4.388-9)

Even the hard-hearted Satan cannot help "melting" at the sight of pure, "harmless innocence." It seems that Satan is almost a figure for the reader, at least in the fact that he has a strong, emotional reaction to the sight of "harmless innocence." But he's still Satan; does that mean we shouldn't "melt" at the sight and that we should respond in some other way that is different from Satan's?

Book 5

"O innocence
Deserving Paradise! If ever, then,
Then had the Sons of God excuse to have been
Enamored at that sight" (5.445-8)

This passage recalls 4.388-9, where Satan "melts" at the sight of innocence. Milton suggests something similar here, suggesting that one cannot help being "enamored" with the sight of innocence. The "Sons of God" refers to a race of lustful men from Genesis 6, which makes this passage strange because it sounds like Milton is saying it was OK for them to be obsessed with her.

Book 7

"and now
Led on, yet sinless, with desire to know
What nearer might concern him" (7.60-2)

Milton reminds us that Adam is still innocent, except he doesn't say "innocent" but rather "yet sinless." Why conceive of Adam's innocence in terms of sin? As with the rose passage discussed above, it seems as though the only way Milton (and we his readers) can conceive of the innocent, pre-fallen world is through the sinful lens of the fallen world.

"But they, or under ground, or circuit wide
With serpent error wand'ring, found their way,
And on the washy ooze deep channels wore" (7.301-3)

Even though Milton describes the primordial waters as "wand'ring" with "serpent error," we aren't supposed to read anything sinful into them. This is the pre-fallen world, and words like "serpent," "error," and "wand'ring" have not yet accrued their negative (i.e., fallen) connotations yet. This is yet another example of Milton's attempt to recreate an innocent universe by purging negative words of their negativity.

Book 8

"Here had new begun
My wand'ring, had not he who was my guide
Up hither, from among the trees appeared" (8.311-13)

Adam describes his movements in Paradise as a kind of "wand'ring." We encounter this word first in Book 2 with the rebel angels, and in general it has fairly negative connotations. However, Milton attempts to purge it of those connotations and use it in a more neutral, less problematic way. Sometimes wandering is just wandering.

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