Paradise Regained Summary

John Milton,

Paradise Regained

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Paradise Regained Summary

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Paradise Regained, by John Milton, is a poem that was initially published in 1671. Milton is also known for, among other works, Paradise Lost, an epic poem he wrote in 1667. Whereas Paradise Lost is about Lucifer’s fall from Heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Paradise Regained is about the temptation of Christ, and uses the Gospel of Luke for its inspiration.

The poem tells the following story: After Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist, he went into the desert, where he fasted for forty days and nights. During this fast, Satan came before Jesus multiple times to try to tempt him. He tried to tempt him with hedonism by offering to satisfy his hunger. When that failed, Satan turned to trying to tempt Jesus’ ego. He failed yet again, and attempted to sway him by offering him kingdoms and wealth. Once more, Jesus turned Satan’s temptations away. Known as lust of eyes, lust of body, and pride of life, these temptations were meant to debase Jesus’ mind, soul, and heart.

By studying the differences between Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, one can learn much about Milton’s writings (though as he was a prolific writer, these two poems hardly encompass his entire body of work). Both are poems written in blank verse. Blank verse refers to the fact that Milton doesn’t follow a rhyme scheme. The lines in both poems do, however, follow a prescribed meter—iambic pentameter. Made famous by William Shakespeare and contemporary poets and playwrights, iambic pentameter has enjoyed wide usage because, of all the different types of meter, it most closely resembles the natural rhythm of English speech. An iamb consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Pentameter means that there are five such pairs (pent– meaning “five”), for a total of ten syllables per line.

Both poems have an epic quality, though Paradise Regained is only about one-fifth the length of Paradise Lost. The latter has over 10,000 lines, whereas Paradise Regained has just over 2,000. Because of this, it has become known as a brief epic. Epic poems typically share a number of features. An epic typically begins in medias res, or in the middle of the action, and usually takes place over a large swath of space, or in a vaster space—the universe. Epics typically involve an epic invocation, of which Homer’s, from the Iliad, is often quoted as an example: “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son….” Epics are known for the use of epithets, which are repeated descriptions. They can contain long lists or catalogues, as well as equally long speeches. Epics involve divine intervention and its effect on human lives, as well as heroes that represent the values of a particular society. Epics also include a statement of theme.

Understanding the differences between Milton’s two poems is as important as understanding their similarities. Where Paradise Lost uses elegant language and style, Paradise Regained is often thought of as more approachable, with a plainer style. Milton uses fewer similes in Regained than he does in Lost, which makes the delivery more direct.

With the main idea of Paradise Regained being to reverse the damage done in Paradise Lost—that is, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, or paradise—Regained is filled with reversals. Another important theme of this brief epic is both physical and spiritual hunger.

While Milton was writing, England was reeling from rapid change driven in large part by clashes between Catholicism and Protestantism. After a recent civil war, the execution of the monarch, the interregnum with Oliver Cromwell, and the restoration of the monarchy, many in England faced both literal and figurative hunger. In that light, Milton’s Paradise Regained can be seen as a work meant to instill hope in his readers. Though the political, economic, and religious changes at the state level were rapid, they were born of unrest that took form as far back as the reign of Henry VIII, in the middle of the sixteenth century. Over one hundred years later, people still suffered from the push and pull that was going on in England. Just as that might have felt interminable, so too can forty days and nights fasting in the desert. By revisiting Christ’s struggles in an approachable way, Milton could hope to lift the spirits of his countryfolk.

It is the creation of this brief epic in the wake of so much upheaval, along with Milton’s skill with the written word, that make this work a classic that is still studied today by novices and scholars alike. Like many of Milton’s works, Paradise Regained didn’t have to regain its popularity because it never really faltered to begin with. Milton’s work influenced the poets of the Enlightenment, as well as the Romantics. Both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained have continued to draw attention throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.