Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Paradise, and Hell: lost

With head, hands, wings or feet, pursues his way,
And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies.

. . . Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

John Milton was born 400 years ago today. When Milton began writing Paradise Lost in 1658 at age 50, he had been blind four years. Then for the next five years he recited the entire work to a series of assistants who wrote it down for 40 minutes every morning. Apparently he became quite annoyed if they were late. "Milton was said to have grumbled around the house, 'I want to be milked. I want to be milked.'" (Read or hear more surprising facts about Milton in National Public Radio's little piece played Sunday.)

I never read Paradise Lost, or any other Milton, but as a kid I looked through my dad's oversized 1865 copy of the book again and again, at the illustrations of Gustave Doré shown here. (Another book I got, lucky me.) Embedded in my brain are pen drawings of Lucifer - Prince of Heaven - falling from grace (example above), and of Adam and Eve being cast out of Paradise (example below). I remember feeling awed by the beauty and depth of the drawings while at the same time being stumped that God would - or could - be threatened by anyone and have to cast them out. Yet the power of the drawings pointed at the power of God, and somewhere in those batlike wings of Lucifer and in the soft vulnerability of Eve, the story did its job. I was a very obedient girl.

Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon.

Hell lost

If you are interested and have time, there was a related (in my mind) story that was also on NPR earlier, on Ira Glass's "This American Life," about Carlton Pearson, pentecostal pastor of 5,000 who fell from grace when he declared that God told him there is no Hell. When he began preaching that new theology, he was of course declared a heretic by the likes of Oral Roberts, Billy Graham and the whole evangelical community, and his congregation dwindled to 200. Makes me wonder which is more costly: Loss of Paradise, or loss of Hell?
That to the highth of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

x o x o x o x o x o x
Today's ornaments:

Peter just arrived back from his band's cruise ship gig in the Caribbean, bringing these stunning etched gourd ornaments - a pair of owls for me, a hummingbird for Don - crafted by an artisan in Bonaire, a Dutch island colony still quite untouched. They reminded Pete of the gourds his dad grows on the farm. It's time to do some etching!


shicat said...

Hi Ruth, Just looked up flight to Bonaire,I'm thinking of moving:) The ornaments are beautiful. I see gourds growing in your garden of eden next spring. ( you can also make great bird houses out of gourds

Barry said...

Obviously it is easier to frighten people into goodness than to show them a better way.

Perhaps Paradise is lost with the loss of Hell?

But I hope not.

Susan said...

Ahh yes, hell and damnation! Where would churches be without it! Got to have some way to control us poor schmucks. However, the art is beautiful, regardless of the scary subjects portrayed. As we've discussed before, I heard lots and lots of Baptist preachers yelling about the fires of hell. I, too, was a very good little girl.

I love your gourd ornaments! I have a nativity scene one that came from Peru. I bought it at a craft mall where there was a booth for fair-trade products from South America and Africa. Maybe I'll do an ornament of the day. I didn't want you to think I was copying. Lovely idea, yours.

Ruth said...

Cathy, Bonaire does look like Paradise, and I don't recall ever hearing of it before. :|

Don grew a bunch of birdhouse gourds last year, and we had good intentions of decorating them. But it didn't happen. If we could grow enough and decorate enough, they would be nice wedding favors. :)

Ruth said...

I dunno, Barry. But I do agree with Milton's/Lucifer's statement:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Ruth said...

Susan, yes, we have so much in common you and I. The little I know of Milton, he was progressive and had some pretty outlandish ideas. Maybe this epic poem struggles with the topic, I wouldn't know. So maybe I should read it, eh?

Feel free to "copy" me, as I copied Anet! She requested it actually, saying she would like to see others' - and so I joined in. I think you should join too. Just remember imitation is the highest flattery. :D

Vicki Holdwick said...


Love the gourds. If you do decide to etch some, be sure to post the results.

I have a dear friend (actually she is like a camp friend - we met yearly to grade AP Calculus exams), who told me about Bonaire. I had never heard of it. She and her husband go there as their getaway of choice because it is so unspoiled. They are wind surfers.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Vicki, I will.

I hope Bonaire will remain untouched and unspoiled. But now that we know about it, and others, it might not remain so!

Anet said...

"I need to be milked!" that cracked me up!!!
Those are some intense images for a little girl.

The ornaments are just the sweetest things. Love gourds and owls! What a treasure;) Enjoy your family!

Loring Wirbel said...

I always loved the Breugel visions of "seven deadly sins." And most of the horrors in those pictures were earthly! (But devils and flaming pits were always present in the corners of the pictures.)

Nautankey said...

Imageries...imageries..the ones which guide lesser mortals :) still remember the frightening deities with tongue out and 10hands,the stories of them killing evil men. Did it stop me from becoming evil? not too sure,but these imageries have their uses probly for those in the lower rungs of spirituality.

Ornaments are getting better :)

Sandy said...

These are gorgeous! Did Peter enjoy your cruise gig...

rauf said...

What ? you lost it ?
i kept hearing that all my life.

i like this chapee, our friend Adam, like me he is a loser, not intelligent and not wise. What ever he lacked was given to Eve and a few more things like courage to take risk and to try out new food, new fashion.

Actually Genesis back fired. It was supposed to show the superiority of man and how inferior a woman is. A big blunder, an ill conceived story. A six year old girl would come up with a better imagination. God already knew whats going to follow, odderwise he is not God. No surpries. Then whats the point in blaming Eve for the downfall of man ? God allowed it to happen, in fact God wanted it to happen. i salute Eve for taking the risk of defying God. Good girl. i like her too.

Milton was supposed to be the most learned of all the poets of his time and those who came after. i can't complain, even Keppler believed that God made heaven and earth in seven days, six days ? seven days, no six days, seventh day he was in the Bahamas. Keppler too believed that this world is only six thousand years old. So Milton is fine. Did he know that the world went around the sun ? i think he came before Galelio. Have to check. i may be wrong here.

Paradise was poor imagination Ruth. pretty ordinary. But the concept of Hell is brilliant. a stroke of genius. Loss of Hell would knock the foundations of all beliefs.

Susan said...

Ruth, I had no idea that the founding fathers were inspired by Milton. That NPR piece was very interesting.

I like Rauf's last paragraph. He's absolutely right.

Ruth said...

Anet, that cracked me up too! Yeah, intense images, but no worse than what we got in church I guess.

I remember the very cool gourd you decorated, and I think I'll need to go back and check it out when I work on gourds next summer. Thank you, enjoy Brad, Caleb, Autumn and Noah yourself. :)

Ruth said...

Loring, as usual I had to look up what you wrote about (happily), and whoa, those are some goofy spooks, and yeah, pretty miserable.

Ruth said...

Nautankey, only now am I learning about the Indian deities, thankfully. If I had seen them as a child I might have really freaked out, haha.

Glad you like the ornaments. I thought these were especially nice.

Ruth said...

Auntie Sandy, thank you.

Peter had a blast! He goes back for another gig the end of January, lucky bloke.

Ruth said...

Hehehe, rauf. Too bad I caught you off guard on a topic you've never thought about, haha. You've written a lot about Eve and her daughters. Thanks to you I've progressed in my thinking about the church, and many different "truths" taught by religions.

The NPR piece mentions that he visited Galile, and apparently Milton was the first to use the word "space" for outer space. Also, he coined "self esteem" which surprised me, I would have thought it came much later, with Freud or someone in the 20th c.

Ruth said...

Susan, I know! I had no idea he was an inspiration for the American Revolution.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Good story... and love the illustrations!!!

You pose an interesting question, Ruth.. but with my out-there way of thinking... aren't Paradise and Hell the same place???...

rauf said...

Yes Gwen, quite true. That is what we make out of our lives. We can make it a living paradise or we can make it a living hell.

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones, sang John Denver, some days are paradise few days are hell, rest of the days are in between.

Gwen Buchanan said...

Rauf you have put it perfectly!!! hope you're having a Paradise Day!!

Ruth I just now finally took the time to read the other comments and it looks like others think the same way.. I don't feel so strange... next time I should look before I leap.. into hell perhaps or is that Paradise?? I can't tell the difference can you??? haha.. I like this talk...

Ruth said...

Gwen, all I know is that I sometimes feel low when all my circumstances are perfectly agreeable. Likewise, I feel strangely elated even when someone else might think my situation was hard or challenging. I just tell myself, I probably won't feel this way tomorrow, so let it be. But I do think we choose our path.

Ruth said...

rauf, I almost wrote something very similar, that most of life is medium, middle-of-the-road, mundane. I know people who love drama and would prefer either heaven or hell to boring apparently. I think I have some of that in me too. I wonder if previous generations, without TV, had that. Well, in Greek plays, it was either tragedy or comedy. I guess entertainment pulls us out of our mundane lives for a couple of hours once in a while.

Sharon said...

We have been without internet since yesterday but luckily it is back on now so that I can listen to your discussion! Thanks.

Beautiful gift Peter!!!

Ruth said...

Sharon, oh dear! Is it the snow you got? One day I will be in Wyoming or Montana for a snowstorm, I need it.

Besides the gourd-geous ornaments, Peter also brought the Desideratum earrings he picked up for me in St. John that Gwen made! I'm so excited.

Sidney said...

Scary and at the same time wonderful drawings...

Too bad Eva wanted to eat that apple...

Peter said...

The illustrations by Doré are really fantastic! Certainly scaring for some, especially those days, but... Thanks for showing them!

Ruth said...

Hi, Sidney. Pen and ink drawings are my favorite.

Too bad Eve was set up to fail!

Ruth said...

Peter, another wonderful book, one you would appreciate. Unfortunately, this one's binding is crumbling.

Christina said...

Yes, I was always fascinated with that story about Carlton Pearson, make me wonder. Hmm... ; )

Thanks for this wonderful post.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Christina. One thing that astonished me is that when his congregation was at 5,000, his church brought in $750,000/month in offerings. :|

raining sheep said...

I have Milton's books ...but, never read them completely. I absolutely love the gourd ornaments. Beautiful. I have never see any like it.

Ruth said...

Raina, it's hard to read everything we want. I've accepted that it just isn't going to happen. My next post is about that.

Bob Johnson said...

Ruth those ornaments are sooo cool, love em.

How did you get the pics on your Blog? did you photo them then download,looks professional, love your choices BTW.

Ruth said...

Hi there, Bob. I just photographed the pages in the book and downloaded, yep. If you ever get a chance to look at all the illustrations by Doré you'd love them. Or maybe you have.

Ginnie said...

First of all, those ornaments are just awesome. Peter did a good job of picking them out!

Secondly, I often wonder if Hell could be any worse than what I've already created for myself here on earth...or if Heaven could be any sweeter than when I am alive and full of the Glory of God in my own skin!?!

As always, Ruth, you have a way of making me think!

Ruth said...

Boots, you are so right about the ornaments. They are elegant.

You know, the way you wrote that about Hell and Heaven, my sweet, that is brilliantly insightful. Period.

Anonymous said...