Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Extracts from Paradise Regained: Book I
By John Milton (1608–1674)
 
[1666; æt. 58. See full text.]
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MEANWHILE the Son of God, who yet some days
Lodged in Bethabara, where John baptized,
Musing, and much revolving in his breast,
How best the mighty work he might begin
Of Saviour to mankind, and which way first        5
Publish his godlike office now mature,
One day forth walk’d alone, the Spirit leading
And his deep thoughts, the better to converse
With solitude, till, far from track of men,
Thought following thought, and step by step led on,        10
He enter’d now the bordering desert wild,
And, with dark shades and rocks environ’d round,
His holy meditations thus pursued:
  ‘O, what a multitude of thoughts at once
Awaken’d in me swarm, while I consider        15
What from within I feel myself, and hear
What from without comes often to my ears,
Ill sorting with my present state compared!
When I was yet a child, no childish play
To me was pleasing; all my mind was set        20
Serious to learn and know, and thence to do
What might be public good; myself I thought
Born to that end, born to promote all truth,
All righteous things: therefore, above my years,
The law of God I read, and found it sweet,        25
Made it my whole delight, and in it grew
To such perfection, that, ere yet my age
Had measured twice six years, at our great feast
I went into the temple, there to hear
The teachers of our law, and to propose        30
What might improve my knowledge or their own;
And was admired by all: yet this not all
To which my spirit aspired: victorious deeds
Flamed in my heart, heroic acts; one while
To rescue Israel from the Roman yoke;        35
Then to subdue and quell, o’er all the earth,
Brute violence and proud tyrannic power,
Till truth were freed, and equity restored:
Yet held it more humane, more heavenly, first
By winning words to conquer willing hearts,        40
And make persuasion do the work of fear;
At least to try, and teach the erring soul,
Not wilfully misdoing, but unaware
Misled; the stubborn only to subdue.
These growing thoughts my mother soon perceiving,        45
By words at times cast forth, inly rejoiced,
And said to me apart, “High are thy thoughts,
O son, but nourish them, and let them soar
To what height sacred virtue and true worth
Can raise them, though above example high;        50
By matchless deeds express thy matchless Sire,
For know, thou art no son of mortal man;
Though men esteem thee low of parentage,
Thy father is the eternal King who rules
All heaven and earth, angels and sons of men;        55
A messenger from God foretold thy birth
Conceived in me a virgin; he foretold
Thou shouldst be great, and sit on David’s throne,
And of thy kingdom there should be no end.
At thy nativity, a glorious quire        60
Of angels, in the fields of Bethlehem, sung
To shepherds, watching at their folds by night,
And told them the Messiah now was born,
Where they might see him; and to thee they came,
Directed to the manger where thou lay’st,        65
For in the inn was left no better room:
A star, not seen before, in heaven appearing,
Guided the wise men thither from the East,
To honour thee with incense, myrrh, and gold;
By whose bright course led on they found the place,        70
Affirming it thy star, new-graven in heaven,
By which they knew the king of Israel born.
Just Simeon and prophetic Anna, warn’d
By vision, found thee in the temple, and spake,
Before the altar and the vested priest,        75
Like things of thee to all that present stood.”
  ‘This having heard, straight I again revolved
The law and prophets, searching what was writ
Concerning the Messiah, to our scribes
Known partly, and soon found, of whom they spake        80
I am; this chiefly, that my way must lie
Through many a hard assay, even to the death,
Ere I the promised kingdom can attain,
Or work redemption for mankind, whose sins
Full weight must be transferr’d upon my head.        85
Yet, neither thus dishearten’d, nor dismay’d,
The time prefix’d I waited; when behold
The Baptist (of whose birth I oft had heard,
Not knew by sight), now come, who was to come
Before Messiah, and his way prepare!        90
I, as all others, to his baptism came,
Which I believed was from above; but he
Straight knew me, and with loudest voice proclaim’d
Me him (for it was shewn him so from heaven),
Me him, whose harbinger he was; and first        95
Refused on me his baptism to confer,
As much his greater, and was hardly won:
But, as I rose out of the laving stream,
Heaven open’d her eternal doors, from whence
The Spirit descended on me like a dove;        100
And last, the sum of all, my Father’s voice,
Audibly heard from heaven, pronounced me his,
Me his beloved Son, in whom alone
He was well pleased; by which I knew the time
Now full, that I no more should live obscure,        105
But openly begin, as best becomes
The authority which I derived from heaven.
And now by some strong motion I am led
Into this wilderness, to what intent
I learn not yet; perhaps I need not know,        110
For what concerns my knowledge God reveals.’
  So spake our Morning-star, then in his rise,
And, looking round, on every side beheld
A pathless desert, dusk with horrid shades,
The way he came not having mark’d, return        115
Was difficult, by human steps untrod;
And he still on was led, but with such thoughts
Accompanied of things past and to come
Lodged in his breast, as well might recommend
Such solitude before choicest society.
*        *        *        *        *
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