Mourning Eve, Mourning Milton in Paradise Lost

Elizabeth M. A. Hodgson
University of British Columbia

Hodgson, Elizabeth M.A. "Mourning Eve, Mourning Milton in Paradise Lost". Early Modern Literary Studies 11.1 (May, 2005) 6.1-32 <URL:>.


  1. Hamlet’s mourning black seems to be a form of armour which Milton’s poetic personae prefer to wear.  In works from “Lycidas” to Samson Agonistes, the potency of grief, disillusionment, and loss is fundamental to Milton’s literary self-fashionings.  In his prose texts and his poetry, the Miltonic speaker is often isolated, deprived, sorrowful, in mourning over the slaughter of the Waldensians, the loss of England’s religious supremacy, the death of a college friend, the surrender of the people to wantonness, the betrayal of divine principles, or the failure of the Revolution (1).  This literary mourner, gathering up the parts of Truth or questioning the water-nymphs or recounting the death of “mother with infant,” creates for himself the righteousness of grief and the right to protest, and these two “rights” are Milton’s primary goal.   What is both fascinating and culturally ambiguous about this pattern of turning grief into judgement is how clearly the Miltonic text also responds to the gendered ideology of grief in post-Reformation England.  This is manifest in the many moments in which his self-authorizing sorrow shifts from resisting to invoking tears as “women’s weapons” as he associates or distances his own grief with or from prophetic, deified, or prescient women-mourners.  This particular nexus of  grief, women, and the poetic prophet is a tool with cultural connections which explain the double-edged ambivalences of Miltonic self-fashioning in Paradise Lost.

  2. The trope of gendered mourning forms one of the epic’s responses to the central, well-studied problem facing the Miltonic narrator in Paradise Lost: the audacity of his claim to present divine mysteries and to “justify the ways of God to man.” As John Guillory argues, “the intersection of epic invocation with biblical inspiration [is], in its origin, an ambivalence of identity” (2).  William Kerrigan’s The Prophetic Milton examines the many configurations of divine or prophetic receivership which the Miltonic narrator employs in Paradise Lost.  What Kerrigan does not explore, however, is the epic’s particularly potent juxtaposition of the figure of the prophet with the conventions of grief.  The powerful, ambiguous mourner stands alongside and infiltrates the exculpatory devices of muse, dream, rational discovery and divine indwelling which Milton’s prophetic narrator invokes.  The Miltonic speaker, strongly influenced and influencing the cultural discourses on grief, invests considerable energy in the strategic cross-gendering potential of this sacred but problematic social role.

  3. Paradise Lost is of course in its largest sense a lament for the loss of human innocence.  And there are several moments where characters grieve thoughout the poem: Eve, Adam, Satan, the fallen angels.  But a small number of passages in Paradise Lost reveal with particular clarity the authorizing functions of gendered grief in the poem.  These displays of authorizing grief occur most frequently in the invocations, where sorrow is ambivalently presented as both a strength and a danger to the poetic narrator.  In the invocations the Miltonic speaker configures himself as the suffering mourner, a strategy which, alongside his appropriation of the muses, enables and defends his prophetic identity.   In far less obvious ways in the invocations the muses also function as proleptic mourners, shadows of disabling maternal grief against which the Miltonic speaker positions himself.  Epitomizing the strengths and the dangers of such mourning are the central images in Book 5 and Book 10 in which Eve becomes the most prominent woman-mourner in the epic.   Her tears, also in proleptic fashion, mimic and invoke both the enabling and the disabling sorrow of the Miltonic narrator.  In these different ways, then, the invocations and Eve’s mourning-narratives figure forth in Paradise Lost the relationships between gendered grief and the prophetic imagination.  The correlatives between narrator and muse, narrator and Eve both resonate throughout the poem and quickly dislimn, which perhaps reflects Milton’s ambivalence over this category of gendered grief—one both useful and problematic in his grander project of  lamenting the loss of paradise (3).

    II Cultural History and Women’s Mourning (4)

  4. If Paradise Lost in these ways imitates elegy, it is hardly alone in doing so.  The elegiac mode’s ubiquitousness in European literature springs from its particular capacity to enable prophecy, patronage, self-empowerment and advancement, as it invites the valorization of the poet and the poet’s work as literary monuments to the absent subject (5).  As “the right to inherit was traditionally linked to the right to mourn,” in taking on such a role mourning poets can also symbolically claim status as inheritors (6).  (The power granted to the elegist is certainly clear in the aggressive appropriations of Milton’s narrator in “Lycidas”.(7))

  5. But the cultural value of grief in this period often plays a complex and troubled role in literary texts expressing grief and mourning.  The value of sorrow in post-Reformation England was often a highly vexed question, constrained by ecclesiastical battles over the meaning of death and purgatory, medical and philosophical theories of the passions, shifting spiritual ideologies of consolation and submission to divine will, and political analogies of exile and loss.  Scriptural and ecclesiastical edicts, sermons, pamphlets, and parliamentary legislation all testify to the significance of mourning as a cultural question in post-Henrician England (8).

  6. Despite the problematic ideologies attached to mourning for English reformers, historians agree that there was certainly no wide-spread Protestant attempt to suppress grief or its expression. Sermons on the subject quote Paul’s explanation that mourning is a righteous act and cite Ecclesiastes 7:7: “it is better to go to the mourning-house, than to the house of banqueting.” John Jewel explains that Jesus healed “sometimes by mourning and sorrowing” (9).  As Robert Burton asserts, in less theological language, “’tis a naturall passion to weep for our friends, an irresistible passion to lament, and grieve” (10). The social role of official or chief mourner was understood likewise as a mark of prestige; Milton and many others note “the honour to be admitted [a] mourner” (11). The political analogy of the protestant movement as the woman in the wilderness, a Una figure who “laments and mourns,” was also a powerful trope among English polemicists (12). The special visionary power of grief (womanly grief in this case) is evident in Mary Rowlandson’s narratives: “Oh! The wonderful power of God that mine eyes have seen, affording matter enough for my thoughts to run, that when others are sleeping mine are weeping” (13).  Proper grief, penitential sorrow, lamentations, were seen as biblically authorized, spiritually necessary, signs of proper affection and correct self-understanding. Women’s tears were often seen to exemplify these virtues, and they were cited, in the repentant sorrow of Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary’s pain, the lamentations of Rachel, the sufferings of the early women-martyrs, as particularly important analogues for Protestant piety.

  7. But, as Burton’s somewhat ambiguous defense of  “natural passion” suggests, the ancient anxieties over the medical, spiritual and social hazards of grief resurfaced with new energy in this period. The “passion” of sorrow, either as excessive grief or as formal mourning, as signs of  either a lack of faith or of the wrong kind of faith, became a site of considerable concern.  As a reaction against “Romish” rituals surrounding deathbeds and funerals, in campaigns against the perceived emotional immoderation which fed the doctrine of purgatory, or as part of the renewed emphasis on individual faith in election, many English authorities challenged the appropriateness of overt grief and mourning.  James Pilkington, the bishop of Durham in the mid-sixteenth century decreed that “not superstition should be committed in [funerals], wherein the papists infinitely offend, as in masses,dirges, trentals, singing…crosses, pardon letters to be buried with them, mourners,  de profundis by every lad that could say it” (14).  Some reformers in the late sixteenth century decried those ‘wailing the dead with more than heathenish outcries” (15).  John Jewel dismissively recounts St. Hilary’s invocation of “the sacrament of weeping” (16).  Calvin in his commentaries on the gospels says that “this is a common disease, that [they] …eagerly increase their grief by every possible means” (17). In a long tradition of consolation, but also in the fight against the Roman power of purgatory, appeared tracts with titles like The Meane in Mourning (Thomas Playfere, 1597) and An Antidote Against Immoderate Mourning (Samuel Clarke, 1659).   Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy exhorts his readers to defend against excessive passion:  “howsoever this passion of sorrow be violent, bitter, and seizeth familiarly on wise, valiant, discreet men, yet it may surely be withstood….we should not dwell too long upon our passions, to be desperately sad, immoderate greivers, to let them tyrannize” (18).  Burton argues out of a long-standing belief in the importance of the will in moderating feeling, but Calvin sees this as a specifically Protestant issue of faith:  he says that “Paul does not demand of us a stony numbness, but tells us to grieve in moderation, and not abandon ourselves to grief like unbelievers who have no hope” (19); by “unbelievers” he clearly means (among other things) papists.  He explains the temptation of grief for Protestants: “the vanity of our mind makes us sorrow or grieve over trifles, or for no reason at all, because we are too much devoted to the world….our feelings are sinful because they rush on unrestrainedly and immoderately” (20).  Richard Hooker likewise explains, “now though the cause of our heavinesse be just, yet may not our affections herein bee yeelded unto with too much indulgencie and favour” (21).  Hugh Latimer argues, as does William Perkins, that only a godly sorrow will be blessed, “as the wicked, when they weep, they are sorrowful….so we must learn to be content; to go from weeping to laughing” (22).

  8. The ancient association of women with tears was often elided with this intensified  Reformed concern over excessive or improper mourning (23). Andreas Hyperius in his influential work The Practice of Preaching instructs his readers that “all that be of a sound iudgement, doe thincke it very uncomly and womannishe to lament without measure, and to take so impaciently the chaunce that happeneth;” “in comfortinge, to increase sorrowe, as that a womannish kinde of wayling and shricking should follow...[doth] incurre reprehension” (24).  Calvin explains that David’s “continued crying [in the psalms] did not proceed from [the] softness or effeminacy of spirit” which he argues does infect the Romanists with their belief in purgatory (25). Hyperius says that “it becommeth men chiefely to imbrace all manhood and prowesse” when faced with death, lest effeminate weakness rob them of “constancye” (26).  In his discussion of Martha, Lazarus’ sister, Calvin decries those who “nourish the excess of her grief” (27).  In King Lear “women’s weapons, water-drops” are a sign not only of immoderate grief  but also of “the mother,” “hysterica passio” (28).  Burton cites the shamefulness of “grave staid men otherwise” lamenting like “those Irish women, and Greeks at their graves, [who] commit many undecent actions, & almost goe besides themselves” (29).  Burton also notes that Socrates called his companions women (“mulieres”) for weeping at his deathbed, at which “they were abashed, and ceased from their tears(30).  Womanly grief is elided with a Romanist form of primitive idolatry, lending new potency to its status as the emasculating culturally other, a sign of emotional or spiritual pathology, an image of excess, appetite, and error.

  9. A common element of this resistance to womanly tears appears in the argument that feminine sorrow is a just and correct consequence of Eve’s transgression (31). A 1640 funeral-sermon entitled “Death in Birth, or the Frute of Eves Transgression” rehearses the argument that “there is a…punishment inflicted upon all women kind in answer to the…sinnes committed by our Grandmother Eve…it was pronounced presently upon her, that her sorrowes…should bee multiplied” (32).  Tears are thus both effect and sign of woman’s originary trespass. Thomas Playfere, in his tract The Meane in Mourning, honours women’s tears, but also says this:  “Naturally (saith S. Peter) the woman is the weaker vessel, soone moved to weepe, and subject to many, either affectionate passions, or else passionate affections... the sinne of a woman was the ruine of man.  Therefore these women… wept the more” (33).

  10. The women to whom Playfere refers represent the inherited error which women’s tears were seen to represent: a weaker capacity to judge correctly.   This aspect of blurred vision in women’s grief is a common concern for the guardians of Protestant decorum and theology. Richard Hooker in a funeral sermon discusses the proof-text on this, from the gospel-account of the women mourning Jesus on his way to the crucifixion:
    When Christ…was led unto cruell death, there followed a number of  people and women, which women bewailed much his heavie case.  It was naturall compassion which caused them, where they saw undeserved miseries, there to poure forth unrestrained teares.  nor was this reproved.  But in such readines to lament wher they lesse needed, their blindnes in not discerning that for which they ought much rather to have mourned, this our Savior…[putteth] them in minde that the teares which were wasted for him might better have beene spent upon themselves (34).
    Hooker makes it clear that he imagines women in particular to be more prone to this “natural compassion” which can fall short of spiritual wisdom.

  11. The cultural language of grief, then, often seems to have been a site of considerable ambiguity in post-Reformation England.  Grief itself was seen to have spiritual, theological and political merit, for men and women alike; it was seen to be natural and biblical, lending spiritual authority, affective weight and political or poetic privilege to the participant in the lineage of sacred mourners (35).  But grief also seems to have been seen as a social, medical, spiritual danger, stigmatized by its frequent association with Eve’s particularly womanly weakness, ignorance, or sin.  The conjunction of these discourses on grief with Paradise Lost’s major and minor sorrow-tropes generates and contextualizes, then, the ambiguous mourning of the epic.

    III Paradise Lost

  12. The Positive Power of Grief
    The invocations to Books 3 and 9 make clearest the Miltonic narrator’s positive ideology of authorizing sorrow.  These passages connect, as authorizing strategies, a contained expression of loss, the presence of the feminine muses, and the prophetic emblems of inner vision.  In the tradition of biblical prophets like Jeremiah or Amos, the Miltonic narrator in these passages emphasizes his own sorrow in order to lend ethical authority to his inspired message.

  13. In Book 3, the address to “Holy Light” introduces the “Heavenly Muse,” (3.19), and the “Muses haunt /Clear Spring, or shady Grove, or Sunny Hill” (3.27-8) where the poet dallies, “smit with the love of sacred Song” (3.29).  Whatever, or whomever, the invocation begins by addressing, the Miltonic narrator sees as connected to his feminine muse and her sacred precincts (36) to provide him with the prophetic insight he requires and claims:
    So much the rather thou Celestial Light
    Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
    Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
    Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
    Of things invisible to mortal sight.  (3.51-5)
    Milton carefully collects these images of height, of secret, sacred space, of the mysterious darkness through which his guides can lead him, to create the mystery of prophecy around his literary work.  The baptismal waters of the muses’ sacred hill he “visit[s]…Nightly” (32); he describes his “obscure sojourn” (15) in Hell and his return as a kind of trance-like vision; his thoughts “voluntary move/ Harmonious numbers; as the wakeful Bird/ Sings darkling, and in shadiest Covert hid/ Tunes her nocturnal Note” (3.37-40).  The prophetic gift requires here the conventional passive, trance-like state, a world of shade and darkness.

  14. The most important element of this fairly conventional representation of inspiration, though, lies in what seems to be for Milton a necessary correlative in his own sorrow. Here the Miltonic speaker quite explicitly and deliberately encircles the darkness of the prophetic dream with a lament for the physical darkness in which he constantly lives:
    Revisitst not these eyes, that roll in vain
    To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
    So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
    pOr dim suffusion veil’d.  (3.22-6)
                                …not to me returns
    Day, or the sweet approach of Ev’n or Morn,
    Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
    But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
    Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
    Cut off, and for the Book of knowledge fair
    Presented with a Universal blanc
    Of Nature’s works to me expung’d and ras’d,
    And Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out. (3.41-9)
    He consoles (and defends) himself by claiming the muse’s territory and the sacred prophets’ role, but grief here seems a necessary element of that prophetic power.  Milton quite deliberately casts his grief in pastoral terms, as an echo of Lycidas; in images of Hell, to echo the profound grief of the fallen Angels; and in petrarchan images of the unseen flower, to pre-figure Eve’s romantic laments.  The final image of  “Wisdom at one entrance quite shut out” suggests the dream-gates in the Aeneid, both the true and the false, as Milton’s prophetic dreams and the darkness of loss cross paths.    The prevalence of verbs of seeing in the following passage (“th’Almighty Father…bent down his eye…” (56-8)) only emphasizes, by contrast, Milton’s sense of bereavement.

  15. But the Miltonic narrator’s invocation of loss is as strategic as his conflation of genders in his vision of his Muses.  He indulges in persistent mourning here in order to ally himself with the forms of subjectivity which Mary Rowlandson claims for herself above.  The mourning poetic prophet who is both supernaturally empowered and uniquely suffering is a very powerful ideological figure with whom to ally oneself, as the Miltonic narrator does here.  The invocation claims, like Rowlandson, that sorrow has lent him greater vision: “so much the rather thou Celestial Light / Shine inward,…that I may see and tell / Of things invisible to mortal sight” (3,51-2,54-5).

  16. The invocation to Book 9 likewise frames mourning as empowering, in this instance as a particularly strategic defense against the charge of agency.  The intentional note of grief, imagined, anticipatory, and incipient, is again an important element of that defense. Milton's attempt to construct a poetic identity here locates itself in absences and griefs which reveal both kenotic submission to Urania and negative poetic mastery (37).

  17. The Miltonic narrator’s central strategy here is to empty himself of poetic agency.  He is, he claims, “nor skill'd nor studious” (42) of other subjects, a blank slate (38).  He particularly casts himself as the object of the Muse's “unimplored” sleep-visions, then, the vehicle only for “unpremeditated verse.”  Milton’s lack of premeditation matches (and implies) Urania's intentionality, her divine premeditation.  And Milton's use of a term with Calvinist resonance (“unpremeditated”) suggests that Urania has appointed and elected the human speaker for this literary task. Milton's speech here is full of subjunctives and conditionals which reinforce the dream’s and the muse’s role of masking the direct activity of the speaker.

  18. Milton also attempts to temper, or resolve, the self-authorizing tone of this invocation through suggestions of grief, especially  his own over lost opportunities (“an age too late, or cold/ Climate, or Years” (44-5)); he feels his wings “deprest” (46).  The Miltonic narrator begins the preface with a lament: “I now must change/ Those Notes to Tragic… a world of woe,/ Sin, and her shadow Death, and Misery…sad task” (5-13).   He seems to lament his own subject, to make himself into the official mourner of the fall to come, as a container for his own hubris in claiming his subject.   He also grants himself the unearned title of the only true elegist of “Heroic Martyrdom” (32).   Milton’s capacity to be a mourner, for himself and especially for others, frames the problem of creative identity for the miltonic son of the Muse in Book 9.  The kenotic sacrifice of the poetic son, the imminent fall of man, and his own dreamlike allegiance to the gift of heavenly Wisdom all attempt to buttress the Miltonic narrator’s authorial self-constructions.  Mourning here becomes the poet as he seeks to win “the identity of the prophet in the renunciation of the not sacred” (39) and in his laments for the loss of the sacred as well.

  19. The Temptation of Grief
    However, just as grief was seen culturally as both affective virtue and emotional weakness, Paradise Lost also hints at the dangers of  disabling womanly sorrow.  The most shadowy woman-mourner in Paradise Lost, whose imagined weeping represents for the Miltonic speaker the temptation rather than the protection of grief, is Calliope, the mother of Orpheus.   She appears as an echo of the narrator’s own loss in Book 7, though here the Miltonic narrator also attempts to distance himself from through the agency of his divinely inspired Muse.  His visionary voice is potentially stifled by sorrow and grief, and he attempts to contain that dangerous erosion of his prophetic vision.  This attempt to resist, while invoking, mourning is clear:
    But drive far off the barbarous dissonance
    Of Bacchus and his Revellers, the Race
    Of that wild Rout that tore the Thracian Bard
    In Rhodope, where Woods and Rocks had Ears
    To rapture, till the savage clamor drown’d
    Both Harp and Voice; nor could the Muse defend
    Her Son.  So fail not thou, who thee implores: 
    For thou art Heavn’ly, shee an empty dream. (7.30-39)
    Milton imagines himself as a not-Orpheus with a not-mourning muse not present in his own poetic work, a ghost of the denaturing sorrow he here seeks to resist and contain (40). The difficulty is of course the absent presence of  both Orpheus (another poet) and Calliope (a mourning muse) in this invocation of his own muse.  Milton seems to declare himself to be the resurrected, redeemed (Christlike) version of Orpheus, but he is simultaneously declaring that his own “fit audience” is rather uncomfortably akin to the “wild rout” who destroyed Orpheus.  As Patricia Vicari explains, “now, instead of being connected with ideal beauty and the art that redeems from death, Orpheus represents to Milton the precarious situation of the poet” (41).

  20. Reinforcing Milton’s uneasily kenotic connection to Christ/Orpheus is the figure of the helplessly grieving mother, a mother who is simultaneously the Virgin Mary, unable to “defend / Her Son” (38-9) and Calliope, the ineffectual maternal muse to the dying sacred poet.  It is this image, powerfully emphasized by a strong caesura and the immediate comparison Milton makes to his own muse, which  reinforces the threat to Milton himself as a messenger of the Word.  Calliope, as the ninth and greatest muse, “representing the harmony that the other eight produced,” is here powerless (42).  The proem's reworking of Horace's “Descende caelo” can only emphasize this, as in the original Horace claims that Calliope protected him as a child (43).  The mourning mother recirculates the lament of the earlier lines as Orpheus and Calliope are themselves “fall'n on evil days.”  Milton’s declaration that Calliope is only an “empty dream” only reinforces the troubling resemblances between her putative helpless grief and the speaker’s own dreams, presided over by his muse, which are meant to console him. Orpheus, the sacred speaker, torn by the “wild Rout” (7.34) while his mother helplessly watched, invokes both the death of Christ and the crucial problem of loss of voice suggested by, and expressed through, the lament of the Miltonic speaker.

  21. Sorrowing Eve
    The Miltonic speaker in the invocations has an ambivalent relationship to the prophetic medium of lamentation and mourning, then, sometimes adopting and sometimes resisting the role of the mourner as he imagines himself inspired by his heavenly muse.  The question of Eve’s tears becomes a necessary correlative to this dynamic, then, especially given the cultural meaning of her sorrow and especially as in the poem her own weeping is so interestingly juxtaposed with reflections on and of poetic imagination and divine knowledge.   Though she is a character-function of great complexity and with many different modalities throughout the poem, she more than once seems to function like the muses in representing the authorial self-fashioning of the Miltonic narrator.  This is particularly true in Book 5, where the narrator frames Eve’s innocent sorrow in terms which predict his own inspired grief over both his personal losses and the grander loss of paradise itself (44).

  22. Eve's sorrow opens Book 5, creating a structural parallel with the invocations which open other odd-numbered books in the epic.  The parallels between Eve’s inspired dream and Milton’s imagined inspiration in Book 7 of the epic are of course familiar.  Eve in her dream is guided by “one shap'd and wing'd like one of those from Heav'n” (5.55); he offers knowledge and the right to “be henceforth among the Gods” (77), “not to Earth confin'd” (78).  Eve eats the forbidden fruit, ascends “up to the Clouds” (86) and then descends again to awaken.  Milton's narrator is likewise led by one who “visit'st [his] slumbers nightly” (7.29).  He is guided by a “Heavenly born” (7) muse who has access to “Eternal Wisdom” (9) and who leads the speaker “up... / into the Heav'n of Heav'ns” (13).  The narrator breathes  “Empyreal Air” (14) like Eve.  Milton's narrator returns to his “Native Element” (16), the Earth, in an echo of the epic's narratives merging Eve with the maternal earth of Eden (45). A vision of the fall guides the narrator as well: “Lest...I fall...Erroneous there to wander and forlorn” (17-20), “fall'n on evil days, / On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues,” “in darkness, and with dangers compast round, / And solitude“ (25-30).  Here the sorrowing Eve writes “Milton” in the Mother of Mankind's re-configuration of the narrator’s authorizing laments (46).

  23. Such evidence of similarities between Milton-the-poet and Eve has, of course, been used primarily to defend Eve as a character whose poetic gifts match Milton’s own (47).  But in many ways this vector of meaning is double-ended; what Milton says about Eve, Eve also says about Milton.  Even if Eve were more than a literary function in the poem, and even if she is a primary symbolic figure of womanhood, it is dangerous to imply or assume that she is redeemed by being the "embodiment of Milton's defense...of poesy" (48).  Some of the same evidence which McColley and others have used to prove Eve's authorial gifts: her imaginative powers, her naming of the flowers, her spontaneous nocturnes and sonnets, her ability to mirror nature – may instead, in the contexts Milton constructs, confirm that the narrator’s own poetic persona has an uneasy relationship to gender and spiritual authority (49).  Certainly the corresponding griefs invoked by Eve's troubling dream in Book 5 and Milton's in his invocations would suggest as much.

  24. The differences between the two accounts are, of course, crucial to the narrator’s point about his poetic endeavour.  His guide is not Satan but Urania, a favoured consort of "th'Almighty Father" (7.11).  Satan offers knowledge, while Urania offers wisdom.  As Diane McColley notes, Satan in the dream can only parody Eve's evening song, that sign of her poetic virtue (50).  And the Miltonic "I" imagines the Heavens not as part of Satan's temptation to be a god but as a mark of divine approval of his "mortal voice" (7.24).  He claims for himself Augustine's highest prophetic achievement: "the minds of certain men themselves are raised to so lofty a height by the Holy Spirit, as to perceive the immovable causes of future they are in themselves, in the very highest pinnacle of the universe" (51).  

  25. But in other respects this same argument betrays still further the similitude between Eve's pre-vision of evil and Milton's doubtful poetic vision in Book 7.  Milton may be suggesting that Eve's passive innocence as dreamer is a model for his own prophetic receivership.  But achievement, rather than passivity, connects these two sleepers.  As William Kerrigan argues, "the third heaven of the visio dei requires the absolute passivity of the rapt soul," but Milton is highly active in his vision, choosing to advise, instruct, and assist his heavenly guide.  Both Eve and Milton have, in their fancy's work, "presum'd" (7.13) to see "The Earth outstretcht immense" (5.87).  If Eve's dream previsions the fall, Milton's sleeping fancies do likewise, redolent as they are of the same ambition with which Satan tempts Eve.

  26. Most interesting for this argument, though, is the relationship between Eve’s response to her vision and the Miltonic narrator’s to his.  The narrator expresses his sense of loss over his present circumstances:
    More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang’d
    To hoarse or mute, though fall’n on evil days,
    On evil days though fall’n, and evil tongues;
    In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
    And solitude (7:24-8)
    The lamenting repetitions of the lines here are striking, as are the echoes of the other grieving invocations; "in darkness, and with dangers compast round” is reminiscent of the openings to both Book 3 and Book 9.  His “fall” into the present world is felt to be literal, physical, and metaphorical, though he claims that his grief is both expressed and contained by the inspiring presence of Urania.  Eve’s fall in her dream is likewise both real and not real.  But though her fall is only prophesied, Eve still feels "sweet remorse / and pious awe, that fear'd to have offended (5.135)":
    silently a gentle tear [she] let fall
    From either eye, and wip'd them with her hair;
    Two other precious drops that ready stood,
    Each in thir crystal sluice, [Adam] ere they fell
    Kiss'd…                                          (130-4)
    Her decorous sorrow is far from the “immoderate mourning” so distrusted in the homiletic and elegiac traditions, and her tears are precisely for her own potential sin, as both a prophetic and a self-correcting sign of  her lapsarian tendencies.  Unlike the women following Jesus, Eve here understands for whom she should weep; like the women after her, Eve “weeps the more” in considering her own potential and originary guilt.  Eve is a cultural sign of her own legacy at this moment, even while she mirrors the narrator’s mourning.

  27. More interesting, though, is the other specific signifier of female sorrow which this passage represents.  The gesture of crying precious tears and drying them with hair invoke the account in the gospel of Luke of Mary Magdalene, whose extravagant washing of Jesus’ feet with her tears was seen as a gesture both of feminine repentance for sin and as a prophetic act of mourning for Jesus’ upcoming death (52).  These cultural identifiers of Mary Magdalene--tears, hair, kiss, even the precious container (the "crystal sluice")--suggest that Eve is also here anachronistically adopting the role of Magdalene as "the weeper," the official mourner for the fall of man and the death of Christ.

  28. This Eve/Magadalene figure is clearly an initial step in Paradise Lost’s defense of specifically reformed piety, an intermittent project of the poem which is often buttressed by typological treatments of Eve and Adam as righteous mourners like the Protestant exiles who “lament and mourn/ in Germany and [England]” (53).  In this instance in Book 5, Adam and and the tearful Eve seek to worship as good Protestants, with "fit strains... unmeditated" (148-9), surrounded by "the shrill Matin Song/ of Birds" (7-8). Their unliturgical praise is clearly valorized in the poem, and Milton's further critique of the Roman church is hinted at throughout Eve’s dream, as in it she falsely rises to Heaven "by merit" (80) to become a kind of saint or idol.   Milton’s chaste appropriation of the Magdalene trope of eroticized sorrow, so celebrated in the baroque sentimentality of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, is a deliberately ironic undercutting of the values of the Roman church.

  29. But the specific point of this particular allegorization and appropriation is, in a kind of recursive loop, to support the sacred poetics which the Miltonic narrator is  building for himself (54).  Mary Magdalene's passive mode of prophecy, the witness and servant rather than the publisher or defender of the resurrection, is clearly ironically appropriate for Eve as well, who is here the unknowing messenger of the fall-to-come.   In Milton’s search for a prophetic position of  unknowing knowledge, then, this conflation of Eve and Mary Magdalene is a helpful tool.  As Mary Magdalene was also often portrayed as a reclining "reader" in paintings and illustrations, and described repeatedly through her role as the first prophet-messenger of the resurrection, this suggestion of the New Testament's chief woman-mourner resonates with Milton’s image of Eve as the Old Testament's first woman-mourner, and both together are a central image for the prophetic narrator (55).

  30. This excessively controlled prophetic penitence of Eve is remarkably different from the second Magdalene-moment in Paradise Lost, in which Eve serves as the tearful suppliant to a temporarily Christlike Adam:
            Not so repulst, with Tears that ceas’d not flowing,
    And tresses all disorder’d, at his feet
    Fell humble, and imbracing them, besought
    His peace, and thus proceeded in her plaint.
            Forsake me not thus, Adam, witness Heav’n
    What love sincere, and reverence in my heart
    I bear thee, and unweeting have offended  (10, 909-916)
    Here Eve’s postlapsarian grief is at least potentially excessive and immoderate, “with Tears that ceas’d not flowing,” her spirits “disorder’d.”  The striking evocation of Magdalene’s eroticized sorrow (“imbracing” Adam with “love sincere”)  reveals Milton’s ambivalent appropriation of the mourning-woman figure; here her “plaint” is both appropriately spiritual and inappropriately symbolic of feminine excess at the same time.  Eve’s tears here are perfect in one sense; by Hooker’s standards she weeps correctly for herself and her own sinfulness.  As a mourning prophet, however, she is imperfect; she believes that their death will alone prevent the spread of evil, for instance, and she suggests a revisionist history of the fall by implying that it is Adam she has most truly “offended” and that her offense was “unweeting” (916).  She also misperceives her own linguistic power, saying that she “know[s] / how little weight [her] words with [Adam] can find,” (967-8) while her words have, until almost the end of Book 9, been entirely influential for Adam.  This combination of right sorrow, disorderly excessive weeping, and misdirected historicizing reinforces the extent to which Eve is here figured as the absolute archetype of the woman-mourner: her tears are indeed “the frute of Eves transgression,” and they point backward and forward to the “death in birth” which she both fears and exemplifies.

  31. The problematic utility of Eve’s typological mourning is only the most obvious indicator of this figure in Paradise Lost, though.  Since Eve’s actions were held to be cause and sign of improper womanly sorrow, she cannot help functioning in Milton’s epic as an avatar of  mourning.  And since mourning was understood to be both authorizing and disabling, Eve’s grief, perhaps not surprisingly, has an ambiguous value in the web of referents to the narrator himself.  But her status in the composite laments of Paradise Lost is precisely like, in its ambiguity, the gendered grief in the invocations as well.

  32. Conclusion
    In all of these attempts to construct a prophetic authorship, then, Paradise Lost employs a nexus of empowerment and grief which springs from an affiliation between the narrator and a woman-figure. The feminine-mourner trope, from classical times on, had several obvious uses: it not only enabled various kinds of divine patronage, but it also supported the artlessness or speechlessness-defense for truth-claims; it valorized authoritative empathy; it granted privileged spiritual virtues; it allowed for models of correction and consolation; it fueled a prophetic voice.  This particularly labile gendering of the authorial voice in Paradise Lost bears along with it, though, the particular freight of post-Reformation England’s unease over female sorrow, its excess, error, and danger.  In Books 3, 7, and 9 of the epic, the Miltonic narrator invokes a muse who will provide the necessary calling and creative empowerment for the grieving poet, and he creates images which imply filial obedience to that Mother-figure through a Christlike or Orphic kenosis.  The parallel dream in Book 5 suggests, through Eve and her association with Mary Magdalene, a model of poetic/prophetic utterance implying passive containment of the sacred imagination.  In each case, the required prophetic unnaming, passivity and tranquility proves transitory; Milton's narrator invokes gender and authorizing sorrow in an effort to contain and defend the sacred filial authority which he fears is both necessary and indefensible. Paradise Lost thus reveals the difficulties and possibilities inherent in creating a position from which to utter forth a biblical lament.  The narrator’s visions issue from a multiple source, multiply gendered, which allows him great flexibility in his self-defenses.   But the indirections and variability in this recurrent set of authorizing strategies demonstrate the deep uncertainty and cultural ambivalence surrounding his invocations of maternally sanctioned grief.   The prophetic dreams of Paradise Lost, both the narrator’s and Eve’s, forge a link between woman-inspired imagination and an empowering sorrow—an ambidextrous cultural weapon which Milton uses, though he seems to know it is not only two-handed but double-edged.


(1) On Milton’s preoccupation with mourning, see in particular William Kerrigan, The Prophetic Milton (Charlottesville: Virginia UP, 1974), 162-6, 184-6; Amy Boesky, “The Maternal Shape of Mourning: A Reconsideration of “Lycidas””, Modern Philology 95:4 (May, 1998), 463-83; Dennis Kay, Melodious Tears: The English Funeral Elegy from Spenser to Milton (Oxford: Clarendon UP, 1990), 222-232; Celeste Marguerite Schenck, Mourning and Panegyric: The Poetics of Pastoral Ceremony (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1988), 91-106; Michael Lieb, Milton and the Culture of Violence (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1994), 40-41, 46-51, 60-63; Louis L. Martz, Poet of Exile:  A Study of Milton’s Poetry (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1980), 60-75, 79-94.

(2) John Guillory, Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History (New York: Columbia UP, 1983), 106.

(3) For a detailed history of the correlation between dream-visions and prophecy, see William B. Hunter, The Descent of Urania: Studies in Milton 1945-1988 (Toronto: Associated UP, 1989), 21-30.  See Maureen Quilligan, Milton's Spenser (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1983), 218ff., on Milton's resistance to women's prophecies.

(4) This article is the second half of what was originally a much longer piece comparing Lanyer's work to Milton's. The Lanyer-half of the argument as published separately as "Prophecy and Gendered Mourning in Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum", Studies in English Literature 43:1 (Winter, 2003), 101-116. My thanks to SEL for permission to use parts of this history-section previously published in that SEL article.

(5) On elegy in Milton’s day, see especially: Peter Sacks, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985), chapters 1-5; Dennis Kay, Melodious Tears: The English Funeral Elegy from Spenser to Milton (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990); Robert N. Watson, The Rest is Silence: Death as Annihilation in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: California UP, 1994); Eric Smith, By Mourning Tongues: Studies in English Elegy (Ipswich: Boyedell Press, 1977), chapters 1-2; Joshua Scodel, The English Poetic Epitaph: Commemoration and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991), chapters 1-7; Speaking Grief in English Literary Culture, Shakespeare to Milton, ed. Margo Swiss and David A. Kent (Duquesne UP, 2002).

(6) Peter Sacks, The English Elegy, 83.

(7) Celeste Marguerite Schenck, Mourning and Panegyric: The Poetics of Pastoral Ceremony (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1988), 16.  See on “Lycidas” Amy Boesky, “The Maternal Shape of Mourning".

(8) David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997), 397-474; on this social history, see especially Ralph Houlbrooke, Death, Religion, and the Family in England, 1480-1750 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), Christopher Daniell, Death and Burial in Medieval England 1066-1550 (London: Routledge, 1997), Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-1580 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1992); Philippe Aries, The Hour of our Death, trans. Helen Weaver (New York: Knopf, 1981); Clare Gittings, Death, Burial and the Individual in Early Modern England (London: Croom Helm, 1984); John McManners, Death and the Enlightenment (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981).

(9) The Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1847), Vol. II, p. 1136.

(10) Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Nicolas K. Kiessling, Thomas C. Faulkner, & Rhonda L. Blair (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), Vol. II, p.180.

(11) John Milton, “The Reason of Church Government Urged Against Prelaty,” Book 2, in John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 667.

(12) “Show Me Dear Christ,” Complete English Poems of John Donne, ed. C.A. Patrides  (London: Dent, 1985), p. 446, line 4.

(13) Mary Rowlandson, “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God,” in Puritans among the Indians: Accounts of Captivity and Redemption, 1676-1724, ed. Alden T. Vaughan and Edward W. Clark (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981), 74-5.

(14) Quoted in David Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, 399.

(15) Quoted in Cressy, 400.

(16) Jewel, Complete Works, Vol. II, p. 1104.

(17) John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. John 11-21 and the First Epistle of John,   trans. T.H.L. Parker,  ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1959), 10-11.

(18) Anatomy of Melancholy, Vol II, pp. 177, 180.

(19) Calvin, Commentaries, 13.

(20) Calvin, Commentaries, 16.

(21) Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, ed. W. Speed Hill (London: Harvard UP, 1977), 6 Vols., Vol. 5, p. 371.

(22) Hugh Latimer, Works, ed. George Elwes Corrie (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1844), Vol. I, pp.479-80.

(23) See especially on this broader subject:  Patricia Phillippy, Women, Death, and Literature in Post-Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002); Speaking Grief from Shakespeare to Milton, ed. Margo Swiss and David A. Kent (Duquesne UP, 2002), chapters 7,8, and 12;  Juliana Schiesari, The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis and The Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992); Lynn Enterline, The Tears of Narcissus: Melancholia and Masculinity in Early Modern Writing (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995), chapters 1 and 2.

(24) Andreas Hyperius,  The Practise of Preaching, otherwise called the Pathway to the Pulpit (London: Thomas East, 1577), pp.171-2, 174.

(25) Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Psalms, trans, ed. James Anderson (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society.1847-9). Vol 5, p. 131; Vol. 4, p.408.

(26) Calvin, Commentaries, 171.

(27) Calvin, Commentaries, 11.

(28) William Shakespeare, King Lear, in The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 3.1, lines 277, 143.  Lear’s linking of his own maddening grief with his daughters’ want of proper feminine softness suggests what he fears: a transgendering, a transference of feminine grief Goneril and Regan them to Lear, and a transference of masculine power from himself to his daughters.

(29) Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 176.

(30) Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 180.

(31) Patricia Phillippy notes the connection between Eve and women’s tears as well (Women, Death, and Literature, 150).

(32) “Death in Birth, or, The Fruite of Eves Transgression,” in Threnoikos, or The House of Mourning; Furnished with Directions for the houre of Death…  Delivered in LIII Sermons…By Daniel Featly, Martin Day, Ri. Houldsworth, Richard Sibbs, Thomas Taylor…Thomas Fuller and other reverend divines (London, 1660), 713-723; p. 617 [sic: misprint for “719”].

(33) Thomas Playfere, The Meane in Mourning. A Sermon preached at Saint Maries Spittle in London on Tuesday in Easterweeke, 1595 (London, 1616), B1v-B2r.

(34) Hooker, Ecclesiasticall Politie, 358.

(35) On the mourner-role for women-poets, see for example:  Wendy Wall, “Our Bodies/Our Texts? Renaissance Women and the Trials of Authorship,” Anxious Power: Reading, Writing, and Ambivalence in Narrative by Women,, ed. Carol J. Singley & Susan Elizabeth Sweeney (Albany: SUNY UP, 1993), 51-71;  Patricia Phillippy’s Women, Death and Literature, chapters 5,6, and 7; chapters by Donna J. Long and W. Scott Howard in Speaking Grief;  Elizabeth M.A. Hodgson, “Prophecy and Gendered Mourning in Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” SEL 43:1 (Winter 2003), 101-116; Janel Mueller, “The Feminist Poetics of Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, eds. Lynne Keller and Cristanne Miller (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1994), 208-36; Margaret Hannay, Philip’s Phoenix: Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke (New York: Oxford UP, 1990).

(36) William B. Hunter and Stevie Davies make clear the importance of gender in this invocation’s slide from “Holy Light” to the Muse herself (The Descent of Urania, 31-43).

(37) See also on this point William Kerrigan,The Prophetic Milton, 137.

(38) John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan, 1957).  All subsequent citations will be from this edition and will list line numbers (with book number when necessary).

(39) Poetic Authority, 106.

(40) Patricia Vicari, “The Triumph of Art, the Triumph of Death:  Orpheus in Spenser and Milton,” in Orpheus: The Metamorphosis of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: Toronto UP, 1982), 207-230: pp. 215-16.  On this topic see also John Block Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1970); Richard J. DuRocher, Milton and Ovid (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985); and Michael Lieb, Milton and the Culture of Violence.

(41) Vicari, “The Triumph of Art,” 224.

(42) E.R. Gregory, Milton and the Muses (Tuscaloosa: Alabama UP, 1989) , 100.

(43) “Descende caelo et dic age tibia/ Regina longum Calliope melos” (III, iv): Horace Odes and Epodes, ed. Paul Shorey, rev. ed. Paul Shorey and Gordon J. Laing (Chicago: Sanborn, 1919).  For this parallel, see Michael Lieb, Milton and the Culture of Violence, 63.

(44) On this parallelism, see also Noam Flinker, "Courting Urania: The Narrator of Paradise Lost Invokes His Muse," Milton and the Idea of Woman, 86-99, pp.93-4; Diane Kelsey McColley, Milton's Eve, 91-2; Maureen Quilligan, Milton's Spenser, 228; Michael Lieb, Milton and the Culture of Violence (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1994), 65; Kerrigan, Prophetic Milton, 145.

(45) Sara Van Den Berg, "Eve, Sin, and Witchcraft," Modern Language Quarterly, 47:4 (Dec. 1986), 347-65, p.364.

(46) Michael Lieb, Milton and the Culture of Violence, 61.

(47) Barbara Lewalski, "Milton on Women--Yet Once More." Milton Studies VI (1974), 3-20, p.8; Diane McColley, "Eve and the Arts of Eden," in Milton and the Idea of Woman, ed. Julia M. Walker, (Urbana and Chicago: Illinois UP, 1988), 100-119; Diane Kelsey McColley, Milton's Eve (Illinois UP: Urbana, Chicago, London, 1983); Deirdre Keenan McChrystal, "Redeeming Eve," Milton Quarterly 23:3 (Fall 1993), 490-508.  See also J. Hillis Miller in "How Deconstruction Works: Paradise Lost IV, 304-8," New York Times Magazine, (February 9, 1986), p.25: Eve is identified, Miller argues, with "Milton's independent power of poetry." Quoted in Catherine Gimelli Martin, "Demystifying Disguises: Adam, Eve, and the Subject of Desire." in Renaissance Discourses of Desire, ed. Claude Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia & London: Missouri UP, 1993), 242.

(48) Diane McColley, "Eve and the Arts of Eden," in Milton and the Idea of Woman, 102.  On Eve as a function rather than a character, see Mary Nyquist, "The Genesis of Gendered Subjectivity," Re-membering Milton, 99-127; Karen L. Edwards, "Resisting Representation: All about Milton's Eve" Exemplaria 9 (1997): 231-53.

(49) See McColley, "Eve and the Arts of Eden" for more on these similitudes between Eve and the poet.  On the fractures and fissures in Milton's depictions of Eve, see: Michael Lieb, "'Two of Far Nobler Shape': Reading the Paradisal Text," Literary Milton: Text, Pretext, Context, ed. Diana Trevino Benett and Michael Lieb, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1994), 114-132; Joseph Wittreich, "'Inspired with Contradiction': Mapping Gender Discourses in Paradise Lost," Literary Milton, 133-160.

(50) Milton's Eve, 98.

(51) St. Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Stephen McKenna, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, vol. 45 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), Book 4, ch. 17, p.158.  See on Augustine's hierarchy of prophets William Kerrigan, Prophetic Milton, 29.

(52) Origen connects these images and the text to which they refer (from Luke 7:36-48) with Canticles, a tradition which became part of Mary Magdalen's iconography.  Origen, The Song of Songs: Commentary and Homilies, trans. and annotated by R.P. Lawson, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, no. 26 (Westminster, : Newman Press, 1957), 160-1.  For a more detailed discussion of this iconographic tradition, see Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993), 91, 219-20.

(53) “Show Me Dear Christ,” Complete English Poems of John Donne, ed. C.A. Patrides  (London: Dent, 1985), p. 446, line 4.

(54) Haskins, Mary Magdalen, p.94.  See also Walter S.H. Lim, "Adam, Eve, and Biblical Analogy in Paradise Lost," SEL 30 (1990), 115-131.  Lim notes in particular the repetition of this association of Eve with Mary Magdalene in Book 10, lines 910-18.  See also Catherine Gimelli Martin, "Ithuriel's Spear: Purity, Danger, and Allegory at the Gates of Eden", SEL 33 (1993), 167-90, and Margo Swiss, “Repairing Androgyny: Eve’s Tears in Paradise Lost”, Speaking Grief, 242-260.

(55) See for instance paintings by Elisabetta Sirani, Francesco Furini, Correggio and Orazio Gentileschi, in Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen, 264-5, 304-5.  On her role as prophetic "illuminatrix," see Haskins, pp.220 & 226.

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