At the heart of this poem is the problem of relating to God without treating him as a calculating evil genius, a cosmic salesman, or (the most tempting of all) an instrument for personal gain. Rather than offering an easy set of moral guidelines or applications, the poem puts its emphasis on the uneasy posture of interpretation, an active disposition that throws the world of appearances into a state of radical contingency. Gone are the totalizing grandeur and the aesthetic pleasure one encounters Paradise Lost. That fertile Garden with all its harmonious comforts has been replaced by a desolate wilderness, cut off from human community. This is no simple exercise; it's a spiritual warzone. Here, rather than on the cross, is where Milton's Jesus defeats Satan and recovers paradise for humankind.
In 1816, William Blake began work on 12 illustrations for Paradise Regained. I'll be posting more of them, along with some further thoughts on Milton's brief epic, as Lent continues. This pair corresponding to the first temptation (below) gives you a sense of the dialectical movement that the poem establishes over and over again.
|The First Temptation|
|Christ Refusing the Banquet Offered by Satan|