John Milton, 'Paradise Lost Books One and Two', title - 'Milton's is a highly visual representation of hell. What does he describe? How does he describe it? What purposes do his descriptions serve?'

Essay by princess147College, Undergraduate March 2004

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Although it has been suggested that Milton's depiction of Satan is unconventional in that it is sympathetic towards him, the same cannot be said for his portrayal of hell. His descriptions, made up of incomparable metaphors, are striking and forceful, yet the interruptions of Satan's speeches of determination allow the readers to explore how it might feel to actually be in hell. Milton puts emphasis on the negative aspects of change through descriptions of characters, and constant comparisons to heaven and Eden. He has taken on the task of describing the indescribable, and with his use of similes aiding him in the process; he successfully manages to create an elaborate image of hell in our minds.

The first descriptions of hell come almost immediately after the invocation, and set up the horrible and superlative image:

'The dismal situation waste and wild,

A dungeon horrible, on all sides round

As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Served only to discover sights of woe' (Book I 60-64)

The paradox used in line 63 is particularly powerful, as darkness cannot be seen.

His intention here is to provide a graphic and meaningful description of the nature of the darkness in hell, so palpable and terrible as to seem visible. In line 65, Milton adapts Dante's words on the gates of hell,

'where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end' (Book I 65-67)

and, in doing so, creates an interesting contrast. He begins the phrase with the words 'peace' and 'rest', only to end up with 'torture without end'. It is similar to how he puts across an impression of heaven: by describing hell, and suggesting everything that heaven is not. Here, he has begun with...