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PARADISE LOST AND THE BALANCE OF STRUCTURES BALACHANDBA BAJAN Several years ago Arthur Barker observed, in an important essay on the structure of Paradise Lost, that 'the effect of balance more or less characteristic of any work of art frequently arrives in Milton at a mathematical plainness almost suggestive of the counting of lines." Since then, the 'almost' has been enthusiastically forgotten and the exploration of Milton's mystical mathematics has been carried to a point that is no longer reassuring . Hidden meanings are not always to be expected from a poet who once declared that 'the very essence of Truth is plainnesse and brightnes." Nevertheless, poetry has its surprises and the excitements of numerology can be accommodated if they supplement structures which are already in existence and which the untutored eye is capable of perceiving. Difficulties arise when the increment of meaning becomes the meaning itself and when the whole epic is presented to us as resting on the dark foundations of an arcane arithmetic. Numerology flourishes best within the ten books of the 1667 edition where what is now VI, 761-2 can be established as the mathematical centre of the poem. These lines, which speak of Christ ascending his chariot, do not exactly leap to the mind in the reading, but it can be argued that they become more potent when the arithmetical spotlight plays upon them and when they are seen as not merely the numerical centre, but as framed by two twenty-three line speeches by Christ affirming the wrath of the divine justice, twenty-three being of course, the number associated with this wrath.' The enthronement of the Son at the numerical centre is counterpointed by the creation of the sun at the chronological centre of a thirtythree day action' - a gigantic implementation indeed of a piece of metaphysical word-play much relished by Milton's century. Unfortunately, Milton sacrificed or at least obscured this delicately-adjusted symmetry in the twelve-book structure of the 1674 edition. Spenser seems to have been similarly insensitive in revising The Faerie Queene and we are thus faced with the entertaining suggestion that great minds not only think but rethink alike.' The reasons for Spenser's changes are beyond the compass of this article. Milton's motives have been described by irate defenders of Volume XLI) Number 3, Spring 1972 220 BALACHANDRARAJAN the ten-book structure, as nO more than 'hucksterism' or the servile imitation of Virgil." Qvanstrom more charitably suggests that the change may have been made to arrive at a more satisfying arrangement but the satisfaction , according to him, consists of seeing that while the crucial lines have been slightly displaced, the central incident considered as an area is now more precisely in the middle of the poem.' The fascination of numbers surely declares itself in the defences to which its adherents are prepared to be driven. The truth is that it is not simply the abandonment of the centre-point which is troublesome, but the cavalier manner in which Milton chose to abandon it. Eight lines are unaVOidably added after the centre-point by the division of the original Books VII and x into two books apiece. Two more comparisons in two comparative similes would have sufficed to offset the displacement, and it can scarcely be assumed that a writer blessed with Milton's allusive erudition was incapable of this minor piece of padding. A three-line addition is in fact made in Book v. But Milton then undoes the good work by inserting into Book XI six more uncalled-for ailments in an already lacerating catalogue of diseases. A further one-line addition is made at XI, 551-2 on the wrong side of the centre-point. Finally, whereas the 1667 edition is numbered in tens, the 1674 edition abandons linenumbering .8 Such behaviour cannot be explained by the desire to imitate Virgil or to sell more copies of the second edition. The conclusion seems rather that Milton was less interested in a numerical centre than in a central event and the constructive question to ask is how the change to twelve books succeeds in significantly surrounding this event. Barker has demonstrated how the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 219-226
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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